Recipe ingredients contain mom's love . . . and pickles
It's her calling card. The potato salad.
It turns up at every Thanksgiving, at Easter, all birthdays, funerals and again at Christmas. It may not fit in with the season or the menu, but it has an expected and much anticipated place at our family table.
I have a card with the recipe on it in my purse. It's been there for a couple of years, ever since I asked her for it.
I will never attempt to make it, but felt like we needed to have it because, God forbid, she leave this world without any of us knowing how replicate it.
I tried to make potato salad once many years ago. I stuck a fork into one of the potatoes, got a steam burn, jumped and accidently stuck the fork into my abdomen. While it was only a surface wound, that was my last attempt at making potato salad — or cooking anything really.
Still, someone needed to have the potato salad recipe, because life is short and people leave us unexpectedly.
I know the recipe has chopped up baby dills and mustard in it, and I suspect that's the secret to its goodness. I'm counting on my sister-in-law to master the rest of it.
Every time my mom makes it she warns us, in typical underrated Midwestern style, that it is "not my best effort." Behind her back we've often joked about that moment when she does present her "best effort" since the recipe has tasted exactly the same for upwards of 40 years.
Then, one day about a year ago, she plopped her trademark staple on the table and announced "THIS is my best effort."
And . . . it tasted exactly the same.
My mother, like the rest of us, is growing older. She appears to be cheerfully preparing for her departure. I say cheerfully because she enjoys life entirely. She travels, has a lot of friends, drives her little Prius all over the place and cooks for friends and strangers.
Still, she's subtly passing on her "stuff" to my sister-in-law and me. Again, behind her back we discuss trading these items — "I'll take the china cabinet, you take the spinning wheel" sort of banter.
In reality we don't care about the stuff. By nature my family is made up of "No, no, YOU take it" type people. But increasingly, I hear us matter-of-factly asking for things like recipes and how she makes her dumplings, and where she and my dad met.
In turn, she has written down all her passwords, bank account numbers and funeral wishes and tucked them away for safekeeping. I, on the other hand, will leave this world amidst a chaotic abyss of untraceable 401(k)s, checking accounts, passwords and cryptic messages scribbled on Post-it Notes. There won't be any instructions or neatly paper-clipped insurance forms.
I didn't inherit my mother's organizational or cooking gene, but I hope I've inherited just a small portion of her grace and goodness.
Yes, as time goes by I find myself clinging to everything my mother does, knows and says.
Because, the fact of the matter is, most of her existence has truly has been her best effort.
Mom's potato salad recipe
4 medium red potatoes
2 hard-boiled eggs
3/4 cup Miracle Whip
1 Tbs mustard
1/2 teas sugar
2 Tbs sweet pickle relish
2 chopped baby dill pickle spears
1/2 teas horseradish
1/2 teas salt
2 Tbs grated onion (optional)
Peel and boil potatoes with salt. Cut up potatoes and eggs. ( I run the raw potatoes through a French fry cutter and cut across potatoes-cutting into cubes and then cook.) Drain potatoes and add the eggs. Mix dressing ingredients together and mix with potatoes and eggs, Refrigerate overnight.