Labor Day is over. Summer is at an end...well, we've actually got almost three more weeks of the season, by the calendar, but here in the United States, the Labor Day holiday weekend marks the unofficial end of summer. Pretty much everyone who goes to school is back in class now, the college football season has begun and the professional pre-season is underway, and it seems like every other ad on television right now is promoting one or another of the new fall programs.
And that is fine with me. I'm sick of summer, sick of the hot weather (although over the weekend, we're forecast to have high temperatures as high as 104 degrees F), and ready for the sun to start setting earlier.
But, there is one manifestation of summer - and summer picnics - that I'm not willing to give up over the cooler months, and that is the potato salad. Some people quit making potato salads after Labor Day (it's just Not Done after the holiday, sort of like wearing white shoes), but I love potato salad and make it all year round. Truthfully, I'm more likely to make potato salad during the cooler weather, since boiling the potatoes (and the eggs, if I want to put them in the salad) takes a while and heats up the kitchen, which is a good thing in the cooler months but not during the summer. I did, however, make a potato salad for the holiday yesterday. Part of it is still in the refrigerator, and I plan to eat some of it for lunch as soon as I finish writing this post.
I make a nice simple potato salad. Looking around online, I see that some people put all kinds of things in their potato salads: different herbs, different vegetables, different dressings. Which is all good, I guess. But I like my potato salads simple, and I still make my potato salad just like my grandmother taught me to, when I was about three or four years old. It's a simple recipe and suits my tastes just fine.
To make my (my grandmother's) potato salad, you boil the potatoes (white rose or Yukon gold potatoes are best, but plain old russets will do just fine) and the eggs, if you like eggs in your salad. The potatoes are done when you can slide a fork into them easily and the skins split when you stick the fork in them. I also hard-boil eggs differently than some people do: I put the pan of cold water containing the eggs on to boil; when they come to a hard boil, I set the timer for ten minutes. When the timer goes off, I take the pan containing the eggs off the burner and let them sit for a few (four or five) minutes. Then I pour off the water and fill the pan with more cold water and let the eggs sit until the water is warm from the heat of the eggs and pan. I pour off that water and repeat the cold water bath two or three more times, until the eggs are cool enough to handle easily. Then, when both potatoes and eggs are cool enough, I put them on a plate and place them in the refrigerator until they are cold.
When I'm making salad just for myself, I usually cook six medium-sized potatoes and two or three eggs. That makes enough salad for four or five generous servings, which ensures that the salad lasts two or three days, not long enough for it to go bad in the refrigerator.
The next step, when potatoes and eggs are cold, is to peel them and then dice them into a bowl that is big enough to hold them and mix the other ingredients into them without spilling any onto the counter. Once the potatoes and eggs are diced, add salt and pepper to taste. Then add mayonnaise and mix. This is going to be a moist salad, so I always add just a little less mayo than I think makes the salad moist enough. After the mayo is mixed in, I add yellow mustard, again to taste - this is another reason why I use a bit less mayo than it looks like it would take to make an acceptable salad - and mix again. If I have them, I then add some sliced or wedged black olives and mix those in but, like the eggs, the olives are not strictly necessary to make a good salad. Next, I add apple cider vinegar to taste and mix. I like vinegar, so I usually add more than some people would. But, even though I do like vinegar, I don't add enough to drown the salad. After the vinegar is mixed in, I also add a small bit of water - usually just a palm-full or two. Keeping in mind that I have pretty small hands, that really isn't much water.
I usually add the vinegar in a couple of stages, to make sure I don't get too much or too little. If you see it pooling in the bottom of the bowl right after mixing, you've added too much. The same is true for the water, so you want to be very careful when adding these two ingredients.
At this stage, the potato salad is ready to eat. However, I try to make my salad enough ahead of time so that I can put it, covered, in the refrigerator for at least an hour or two, to let the flavors of the dressing ingredients meld. The value of this is seen in the fact that this salad always tastes better the second day.
I also want to mention that you don't want to let the salad sit out on the counter for very long after mixing it or after serving. My roommate is less casual about this than I am, but I was raised that you don't let food with mayonnaise, even with vinegar in it, which acts as a preservative, sit out for more than a few minutes. So, that's my safety warning.
Do you make your potato salad a different way? Drop your favorite recipe in the comments, because as much as I love my simple potato salad, I'm open to trying new things as well.
Now, my mouth is watering just thinking about the potato salad sitting in my refrigerator, and it is time for lunch. I'm going to go now and have some of my salad, and a couple of slices of toast, maybe, or a sliced tomato on the side.
Oh, and don't worry. I won't be writing too many of these cooking posts. I'm more of a heat-and-assemble sort of person than a cooking enthusiast. But, I do love potato salad and the store-bought stuff just doesn't compare to this salad that my grandmother taught me how to make, lo, those many long years ago.