Sunday, October 18, 2009

Celebrate German Heritage Recipe #5: German Potato Salad

When I was growing up, in my family, we almost never called it “German potato salad.” We just called it “potato salad”—I mean, what other kind is there? Oh yeah . . . the kind with yellow mustard, and the kind that’s just, well, plain. Like I said, what other kind is there?

I have to admit that I cannot provide you with a definitive “this-is-the-best-you-guys!” kind of recipe.

You have to realize that I didn’t really get interested in cooking until both of my grandmas had retired from KP, and even then, I was more interested in “ethnic” cooking and “healthy” cooking than I was in acquiring my own family’s heirloom recipes. (Big regrets.)

And although I have a copy of a recipe from my Grandma Renner, I haven’t been able to locate any official German potato salad recipe from my Grandma Schroeder. And the two versions were very different. (I have to admit that I generally like my Grandma S’s version better; it tastes lighter and has more vegetables.)

My own recipe is informed by one I found at, as well as several others, and—especially—my recollections of Grandma S’s potato salad. And I guess it works pretty well as an approximation.

GPS Techniques: Overview

Some years ago, when I was trying to figure out how to replicate Grandma S’s recipe (which is just as good cold as it is hot), I read a lot of recipes and discovered that there are several ways of doing the sauce. Here’s an overview of the three main methods. I’ll be giving you all three of the recipes.

1. Fry, remove, drain, and crumble the bacon. Use drippings as base: Add flour and seasonings. Add vinegar (use apple cider vinegar, of course) and sugar and water. Pour this dressing over the cut-up cooked potatoes and other ingredients. (This seems the most popular method, overall.)

2. Fry cut-up bacon. Add vinegar to the drippings and crumbled bacon. Then make a paste out of flour and water and add that to the bacon/grease/vinegar. Then add sugar, salt, and water, and boil for 5 minutes. Pour that over the potatoes and other ingredients. (This is Grandma Renner’s technique.)

3. Fry cut-up bacon. Pour it over the cooked and cut potatoes and other salad ingredients. For a dressing, bring to a boil an egg, sugar, and vinegar. Pour the dressing over the salad. (This is from an old recipe from a Lydia Wegener—a friend of one of my grandmas, I’m sure.)

. . . You all are going to think that I have a pork fat or bacon fetish! Really, I don’t. It’s just the time of year, and pork fat is pretty central to this style of cooking. I can’t help it; I didn’t make it up. Bacon is to German home cookin’ as olive oil is to Mediterranean cuisine. I'm not saying to eat it every day, and I really do use olive oil a lot more than bacon grease. Honestly.

I think the reason why there’s no “official recipe” from my Grandma S is that this is a “cook by feel” dish, where you add whatever you think would be good in it. I mean, for goodness’ sakes, it’s a salad, not rocket science.

My Grandma S liked to put hardboiled egg, chopped celery, and a generous amount of parsley into her GPS. She generally served it cold from the refrigerator, and it had a good crunch to it. This goes just as well with fried chicken on a summer picnic as it does with brats on a crisp autumn day.

German Potato Salad My Way
(approximating Grandma Schroeder’s version)

4 medium potatoes: peel them, boil or steam until JUST done, and then cut up or dice.

4-8 slices of bacon (or less, depending on their thickness and how much you want): cook and crumble. Leave about 1/4 cup of grease in the skillet. [I squirrel away the remainder of the grease in a jar in the fridge—a little dab of it makes a big difference in a huge mess of greens.]

To the hot bacon grease, add:

1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

. . . And cook, stirring, until thickened.

Then, in a big bowl, combine the salad ingredients:

--the cooked, cut-up potatoes
--the crumbled bacon
--1 onion, chopped
--a rib of celery, chopped
--chopped parsley as you like it (I say: plenty!)
and last, because you want to be gentle with it:
--some cut-up hardboiled egg

(’s recipe uses a chopped green pepper and a tablespoon of pimiento, but I skip those in lieu of the celery, parsley, and HB egg.)

Pour the dressing over all, and toss gently. It’s best if you let it sit for a while, like overnight, for the flavors to meld, but it’s good hot or cold.

Makes 1 big serving bowl.


Karla said...

I don't think I've actually made potato salad since I worked at the Pines Cafe in Bozeman. I'm just too lazy! Around here (at Safeway) you can buy what they call "Amish potato salad." I haven't figured out yet what makes it "Amish"--it seems just like the mayo/mustard version I'm used to. But eggs? Did Paul actually eat this?

Julie said...

Paul? Well . . . YEAH! Sure. Grandma was a fantastic cook and we all loved eating her chow. What, does Paul not eat hardboiled eggs anymore? Or just this kind of GPS--?

Karla said...

Hardboiled eggs!

Just showed this to Jesse--he had to do a "journal entry" as part of homeschooling today. I told him your blog was kind of like a journal.