by Eric Wharton
My Recipe Book, constantly being added to
Good, old-fashioned ways keep hearts sweet, heads sane, hands busy.
― Lousia May Alcott
Growing up, my mother made a potato salad that did not use mayonnaise like all my friends' mothers, but a cooked dressing instead. It was to die for and being of Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry, I assumed it was just some kind of German potato salad. My wife always used mayonnaise and I got used to it over the years, but always yearned for that potato salad my mom used to make. One day I discovered a container of German potato salad in my local grocery store and was elated. It was yellow in color just like my mom's, so I bought some with unbridled joy. Imagine my surprise when it was nothing like what I remembered.
I went back to the source and asked my mom about it. She had simply used an old fashioned dressing that was in use long before mayonnaise took over—probably a staple in every country kitchen. Homemade mayonnaise didn't really come to American until the late 1800s and even then, it didn't become favored until the mechanical bread slicer came along in the 1920's and the brown-bag lunch became popular.
Sometimes called boiled dressing, although it shouldn't ever be boiled, this custard-like dressing has a unique, tangy flavor that is excellent not only on potato salad, but on coleslaw and other vegetable salads. It has fallen out of favor with the convenience of commercially bottled dressings, but it's one of those common-folk foods, dating back to the the time when only the wealthy were able to afford the finer cooking oils for fancy vinaigrettes and creamy dressings.
It is most commonly used as dressing for potato salads or plain boiled potatoes, in coleslaw, pasta salads, drizzled over meats, or as a kind of Hollandaise sauce over vegetables. I use it now on all those vegetables I hate to eat, like asparagus tips, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and so on. It can also be thinned down with milk to make a fabulous salad dressing for lettuce wedges.
2 whole eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp butter
1 tsp flour
1 tsp mustard
1 tsp salt
In a small double boiler, whisk together the flour, sugar, mustard, and salt until there are no lumps. Add the eggs and beat smooth. Place over a medium to medium high heat and add vinegar and water, whisking constantly until the mixture is smooth and thick like a custard. Do not allow mixture to actually boil. Remove from heat, add butter and any other seasonings depending on the use, such as celery seed for coleslaw or parsley for potatoes. Chill and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Return to Mason-Dixon Recipes