This column was going to be about my “Law of Slaws” (one for fish, another for barbecue, and one for ribs and chicken) and the need for at least three baked bean recipes and three potato salad recipes to get you through the summer of potlucks, picnics and family reunions. This is a truism that will keep you from being bored with summer food. But an event happened June 30 that changed my mind during the week that followed. My mama passed away.
We Southerners are a curious group, with lots of quirks and seemingly odd traditions, none greater than meeting grief with food. I’m sure other regions have some of the same ways (ever been to an Irish wake?), but to those of the South, when learning of a death, the pots and pans get busy preparing their very best recipes.
Sure, bringing food to the bereaved family so that they don’t have to cook and will actually think about eating is part of the tradition – but that’s just a small part of it. It’s our way of saying we love the family and we share in their loss. .
It’s about comfort.
From the day Mother died, her church was hell-bent on feeding my family. I appreciated that, although they were fearful of feeding me because of what I do. Folks, never fear cooking for a food writer or a chef. We love you for it.
Though all the plans, I started looking forward to her burial in Johnston County. My cousin Mel immediately stepped up and said his house would be opened to us. And I knew the food would be flowing. But what I was looking forward to was gathering around that food and sharing stories of my mama, the funny and crazy events along with the tender. I knew that there I would have the best moments and my grief would begin to wane.
It is at a table, filled with food, that friends and family truly share – not just in death, but in everyday life. The table should be the most important part of our day.
Mama knew that food and being at the table were important. She was, if nothing else, an eater and took great joy in food and loved when I would cook for her. I will miss that among other things of her life. Mother cooked with love in her soul and she passed that trait on to me.
This red-skinned potato salad was one of her favorites, even though she called it her son’s “goosed-up potato salad.” To go back to my first words, this recipe fills the bill for one of those three potato salads you should have for the summer.
Don’t wait. Cook for your family. Share food with a neighbor having a rough time. Share the table the table with as many folks as you can.
Your soul will be richer for the experience.
Mom’s Second Favorite Potato Salad
2 pounds red-skinned potatoes, unpeeled and cubed (we used Brinkley Farms)
6 hard-boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup Duke’s mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish, drained (more to taste, if desired)
3 teaspoons prepared yellow mustard
1 tablespoon whole milk
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Diced onion or dill (see note)
Chopped crisp-cooked bacon for garnish, if desired
PLACE the potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with water by about 1 inch. Place over high heat. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a hard simmer. Cook for 18 to 20 minutes. The potatoes should easily give when pierced with a knife, but you don’t want them to be mushy. Remove from heat and drain.
COMBINE the eggs, mayonnaise, relish, mustard, milk and vinegar.
STIR all the ingredients and add in the warm potatoes.
STIR to coat the potatoes, and then season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with bacon, if using. I like to serve this while it’s still a bit warm, but room temperature is fine or even straight out of the refrigerator.
Note: If you would like to add onion to this recipe, chop 1/2 cup, then place the onion in a colander and run under hot water for about 2 minutes. This prevents the onion from overpowering the other ingredients. Drain and dry well before adding to the mix. If you would like to add dill, I suggest about 1/2 cup of chopped dill leaves. They also would go into the mixing bowl.
Serve with: Just about any summer food you can imagine. Really good with fried chicken or fish. Goes with burgers and ribs equally well.
To drink: The best drink for summer is half sweet tea, half homemade lemonade. The shot of vodka is up to you.
Yield: 8-10 servings.