The picture remained perfectly clear in my mind: the red geraniums overflowing in the window boxes and the wooden staircase up to the second floor that had been our home in Salzburg for half a year in 2003.
After a rainy drive from Munich, it was a joyful relief to park the car and be greeted by our former landlord and friend Hans Ullrich, who really does look like Captain Kangaroo’s twin brother.
Ullrich, endlessly optimistic and good at predicting the weather, rents the fully furnished two-bedroom unit over his home to guests from around the world. We had reserved it for one precious week this time.
Upon waking, I strolled down the street to my favorite grocery store and then onto Engelbert Lettner, the neighborhood butcher. I was there to buy breakfast cheese and potato salad, but they will cheerfully grind up your choice of beef and/or pork for spaghetti or meatloaf.
Soon I was off with my white packets of Emmentaler and Gouda and my beloved kartoffel salat, or potato salad.
Batches of this same potato salad kept disappearing before we could take its picture – which then required extra trips to our preferred butcher.
I admit that I had found a few forkfuls made a satisfying snack at any hour and a small mound made the perfect side dish. Plus, it was so easy to eat – tangy vinegar, creamy potatoes and the work to make it done by others.
I did other cooking in the kitchen of our temporary digs. Although it was close quarters, it was possible to cook dinner for a small party, of which we had a few. Both of our German “exchange daughters” came to visit. We caught up on everything in our lives and then philosophized about potato salad.
One of them explained that everyone begins their potato salad the same way: covering the potatoes with water and cooking them until tender. After that, everyone’s ingredients are slightly different . No one ends up with the same result. Maybe your secret ingredient is using the juice from the pickle jar or spices picked from your garden. You get to be the boss.
Personally, I like both common versions of potato salad. The mayonnaise-based style is served cold at your summer picnic; the other is the warm vinegar-based salad. Today I am savoring the latter.
In either case, you need to pick potatoes that won’t crumble or fall apart when cooked. Russets are commonly used, but you also can use Yukon Golds or perhaps some of the heritage varieties that you can find at the market (or in your own garden). You won’t find the skins on your potato salad in Austria or Germany, but if you like to get more color in yours, keep the skins on, but make sure you scrub them well to get off grit.
Mayonnaise-based potato salad is ripe for adding miscellaneous ingredients such as green peppers, hard-boiled eggs, olives, sunflower seeds and mustard. You might add such ingredients to this warm variety, but I like the simplicity of the potato, the vinegar with a touch of sweetness, and the flavor of the onions.
For me, making potato salad is an art more than a science. The variety of potatoes and amounts of vinegar, herbs and sugar are left to the discretion of the one who makes it. Remember that if you taste the dressing before you put it onto the potatoes, it needs to be strong, as it will be spread out over the blandness of the potatoes.
Austrians call potatoes erdapfeln (earth apples) and Germans call them kartoffeln, and I call them yummy potatoes. Find what pleases your potato palate.
And by the way, if you want to know a tiny bit of what it is like to be in Salzburg, rent “The Sound of Music” and watch the opening sequence a few times. It gets me singing every time, except when my mouth is full of potato salad. Bon appétit!
Mary Ellen Psaltis lives locally and eats globally. You can reach her at TheRecipeWriter@hotmail.com.
1 onion, chopped finely
4 slices bacon
1 tablespoon flour
1-2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste
Cover potatoes with water and boil. Cook until tender but firm, 15 to 20 minutes. The time is shorter in a pressure cooker. Drain, cook and slice.
Cook bacon to even brownness over medium high heat. Drain, crumble and reserve a little of the fat.
Cook the onions briefly in 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat, reserving the rest of the fat. Add the flour, sugar, vinegar and water to two tablespoons of the reserved fat and cook until the dressing thickens. Add bacon and potatoes and stir until coated. Season with salt and pepper. Top with fresh parsley.
Hint: This potato salad is meant to be served warm or at room temperature, but store it in the refrigerator between meals.