Potato Salad with Green Beans, Kalamata Olives, Anchovy Caper Dressing
One dish I might call distinctly American is Potato Salad, well that is if one refers to some of the similar yet diverse versions of this famous side dish served at seasonal gatherings, picnics, and parties.
Years back, when it came to Potato Salad, every family had their own version.
And then. There were the Potato Salad Snobs.
Potato Salad snobbery even affected whole clans surrounding this favorite side dish of American tradition including the children of families who would declare their mother’s version as simply the best and would not even consider sampling any version of another.
Mostly these Potato Salads were variations to include the use of different select type potatoes, chopped hard-boiled eggs, assorted pickles, mustard combined with mayonnaise, or just plain overloaded mayonnaise.
I suppose if I am to out the Potato Salad snobs of my childhood I should too admit I was secretly probably the biggest among them, but not because I harbored any illusions of my own Mom making such superior potato salad (although she actually made what some today might consider a more desirable healthy ‘light’ potato salad.)
But more so, those whitish, yellowish, sometimes green specked and filled to the brim giant sized bowls gracing long red checked tablecloths atop red wood picnic tables set in the full heat of sun for hours plain out scared the heck out of me and I would never touch them.
The key word that came to mind, and not so frequently used today was ‘Tomain’ poisoning which is actually spelled with a P, Ptomaine. Overladen mayonnaise mixed together with potatoes then transformed to ‘smushed’ was something I silently feared would bring on the ‘Tomain’ and so thus all together avoided, especially if it came with the addition of smashed up hard- boiled eggs, even worse, mustard mixed with what seemed like an entire giant sized jar of Hellman’s mayonnaise. Yuk.
Everyone was avoiding ‘Tomain’ poisoning or regularly mentioning it in any event, when I was little; making it then surprising that few others made any connections with heavily laden mayonnaise based American food side dishes sitting out for hours in the hot sun and even more striking that folks so rarely ever became ill following these large annual ceremonious gatherings.
It’s only fair to clarify I’ve nothing against Hellman’s mayonnaise, and I use it at home. Mayonnaise jarred or fresh in general performs its essence in many assorted foods and dishes, but for me, just so long as its not overdone or mixed in at such proportions to make the true nature of the featured food ingredient something else altogether, including unrecognizable.
As I grew up and made my own American style version of potato salad I much tended towards that of my own mother and grandmother including some fresh chopped celery, onions or scallions, celery seed, chopped parsley, and a small amount of mayonnaise, perhaps with a touch of added vinegar for thinning and flavoring.
Then one day it happened, I found there was possibly a silent yet real preexisting Potato Salad Snobbery in my very own clan and it was my grandmother (Grams). Readying an upcoming event, Grams announced she had prepared her own version potato salad for the following day’s outdoor gathering whose reasoning was for the purposes of just having her own dish then admitting to me her distress on what turned out to be our commonly shared Potato Salad fear, the overdosed mayonnaise with mixed together indistinguishable ingredients. Tomain. Avoid the ‘Tomain’.
Grams would love the varieties of Potato Salads served today, including today’s featured Potato Salad, kind of Nicoise or Mediterranean style with the green beans and Kalamata olives, anchovies and capers dressing.
Grams would also love that with healthier food trends of today folks have more frequently taken to preparing those American Picnic Potato Salads focused more on bringing out the flavor of the fresh ingredients as the potato, rather than how much could be dressed into it.
Perhaps Grams was ahead of her time, or perhaps she one among previous generations who just thought the fresher, lighter, plainer was really the more flavorful, superior food preparation.
Either way, it goes to show that families may share common distinguishing taste preferences about specific food ingredients, their preparations, combinations and techniques, even those of visual presentation, included among them, Potato Salad Snobs avoiding the Tomain.