Gertrude always made the best tasting potato salad. It’s not a typical “German” potato salad with the usual bacon, onion, vinegar, and sugar dressing, but it is a recipe that came from my parents’ first American friends.
My grandparent’s house at 30 Sooderstrasse in Wiesbaden, Germany, was occupied by an American officer’s family right after the war. My Oma Emma, my Opa Hans and my parents, Gertrude and Horst, had to move in with Tante Lucie Neugebauer down the hill in Sonnenberg and shared the little house “an der Stadtmauer,” with Lucie and her two sons, Jürgen and Helmut. The occupying officer and his wife couldn’t have been nicer to my mom and dad, though.Here are some excerpts from Gertrude’s memoirs about that time just after the war:
Since our house and the whole street was taken over when we were not there, our personal belongings were still in the house. The first time I went there, finding that none of the soldiers spoke German, I consulted my meager knowledge of English and uttered my first English sentence: “Can I come into the house?” They let me come in and gather my belongings and they were quite friendly.
In the meantime, we lived with Tante Lucie in Sonnenberg. We had a kitchen and the living room downstairs. Tante Lucie and the boys upstairs and my parents sleeping under the roof. The outhouse was across the yard and was shared by 14 people.
Soon the first American family moved into our house … Major & Mrs. Sprigg. They were very nice to us and helped us in many ways. We could even take a bath once a week or hang our laundry up in the attic.
Horst did yard work and repairs around my grandparent’s house, he kept their garden and enjoyed planting seeds that the Spriggs had sent for from America. One summer Horst harvested a bumper crop of corn from their vegetable garden, which was a treat for the whole neighborhood.
Horst and I decided to immigrate. Major Sprigg always encouraged Horst that he was the right man for the U.S. because he could do anything. “Horst, you belong to America,” he would say.
Major Sprigg visited us in the first year (in Newark). He laughed at our N.J. accents.
My memory of the Spriggs and the potato salad comes from when we visited them in Colorado in 1960. I was 5 years old. It was an amazing vacation – one of the only ones we ever took. Major Sprigg picked us up at the Denver airport in a big yellow station wagon that had electric windows. I had never seen anything so high tech. We went on hikes, we fed the ground squirrels in Rocky Mountain National Park, I learned how to tie my shoes and we barbecued every night. Mrs. Sprigg taught Gertrude how to make her potato salad, and I still have her recipe card.
This was the only kind of potato salad Gertrude ever made. It was always a hit on the big smorgasbord of a picnic table she would set out whenever we had guests at the lake. Friends I’ve shared the recipe with have said that since trying this recipe, it is the only potato salad they ever make, too.
5 lb. Yukon Gold or red potatoes 2 teaspoons salt
2 stalks celery, chopped fine
1/2 cup onion, chopped fine
1 cup frozen peas
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated 2 big dill pickles, – about 1⁄2 cup, chopped – save the juice!
1 1⁄2 cups mayonnaise
1/3 cup pickle juice
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup wine or cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 2 teaspoons curry powder, or more, to taste
Salt and pepper
Cut potatoes in halves or quarters, depending on their size (fist size, cut in quarters; handball size, cut in half). Heat in a large pot filled with cold salted water to cover, and once it reaches a boil, simmer for about 20 minutes, testing with a fork for doneness. During the last 10 minutes of the potato cooking time, drop the eggs into the kettle and let them boil along with the potatoes until they are done.
When cool enough to handle, peel (optional) and thinly slice potatoes, then place in a large bowl. Peel and chop the hard boiled eggs. Top with the remaining salad ingredients. Whisk the dressing together in a small bowl, pour over potatoes and the rest of the salad ingredients gently mixing the salad together.
Best served at room temperature. Refrigerate any leftovers.
A few hints:
• Never, never, never use low-fat mayonnaise. You have to use the real thing.
• Throw the eggs into the pot with the potatoes the last 10 minutes of the potato cooking time to hard boil them–one fewer pot to wash.
• Use dill pickles, not sweet ones. Fresh ones like Claussen’s are really good. Be sure to set aside some of the pickle juice for the dressing.
• Peeling the potatoes is optional. A real German would never put unpeeled potatoes in a salad, but I like the rustic effect.
• Don’t forget the frozen peas. They are the secret ingredient…well, those and the curry powder…and the pickle juice…and the Worcestershire sauce.