Mom’s German Potato Salad

…and a visit to German Village

gps_potato_platter_det

Dad–
I raved so much about Gary’s rendition of the German Potato Salad to Alison that now she wants us to make it with our latest crop of potatoes. Therefore you *HAVE* to do an EatsForOne feature on the recipe, especially if you can track down Martha’s version (Gary might be able to help you there, a good excuse to give them a call).
–ER

And so the quest began. I called Amy and Gary.

When Amy answered, I said, “Eric’s on me to write something about “Mom’s” German Potato Salad you guy’s brought to the Pigroast. Can you give me the recipe?”

Amy said, “Gary made it, I just helped and coached.”
“Is Gary there?” I said.

“He’s outside, under his truck,” said Amy. “I’ll call him.”

Gary said, “Gosh, I just started cooking… Amy peeled the potatoes and I sliced them… we were just cooking together…

“I don’t remember the proportions… I know we started with a lot of bacon… 1 1/2 pounds, and a lot of onions… saute the onions until they’re good and caramelized… deglaze the pan with a bit of water, then start adding vinegar and sugar until it tastes like the German Potato Salad in German Village. I’ve never seen the recipe written down. Maybe next time, I can make some notes.”
gv_Schmidt_lunch

After thinking about it, I fired off an email with a couple more questions, to which Gary quickly replied:

Mustard? No mustard, but that could be a worthy secret ingredient.
What kind of potatoes? The potato was a russet  brown skin and Amy states that we once used some red skin potatoes. Peeled, sliced on a mandolin. and parboiled.

I tried to conjure up what I remember about Mom’s German Potato Salad — I’m sure my recollections were heavily influenced by what I had just eaten at the Pigroast.

Potatoes were sliced, not cubed
Potatoes were firm, not mushy
No other vegetables or eggs.
Sweet and sour taste.

I looked for German Potato Salad recipes on the internet. Surprisingly, none were very close to the picture in my mind. One, from House & Garden, February 1957, on Epicurious, by Eloise Davison was just potatoes, bacon and sauce, but she used cubed potatoes, and only four teaspoons chopped onion, coupled with flour to make a roux with the bacon fat.

The best clues came from Recipes from a German Grandma

What makes a good German Potato Salad?
The Potato
Any potato works well but it is good to understand the qualities of each potato to their advantage in your salad. ?Many Germans like the firm red skin potato but the russet works well as also.
The Dressing
The typical dressing is a very simple vinaigrette that is equal parts water, vinegar and sugar.
Trouble is, the pictures showed a mooshy mass of potatoes, so I didn’t read that recipe carefully before I started writing my own and cooking. (Looking back, its pretty close to what I did.)

“Mom’s” German Potato Salad
MR 8.21.10

5 ounces thick bacon, chopped small (that’s what I had)

gps_bacon

2 pounds potatoes, peeled
1 big onion, chopped

French Potatoes, German Butterball Potatoes, onion

French Potatoes, German Butterball Potatoes, onion

1/3 cup potato water
1/3 cup vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
salt and pepper along the way and to taste.

Slice and par-boil the potatoes (takes about 15 minutes from cold.) I cooked the potatoes first because I wanted to use the starchy potato water for the sauce. I let the potatoes sit in the hot water until the sauce was ready.
In a large saute pan over medium heat, fry bacon until crisp. (I used my Joyce Chen wok.) Remove to paper towels to drain.

gps_bacon_cooks

Saute onions in the bacon fat until caramelized (this takes a while).

gps_onions_cook

gps_onions_caramelized

Return bacon to wok, add water and de-glaze, add vinegar and sugar, stir and cook until it bubbles.
Pour over the hot sliced potatoes. Serve warm.

gps_potatoes_pot

gps_potatoes_platter

That turned out damn good. C thought it could have used a little more vinegar. Served with Lamb Crepinettes and haricot vert cooked with bacon and smoked paprika.

gps_dinner_served

Eric email 8.21 while I was cooking:

Dad–

OK, so I jumped the gun.

I’ve probably already asked you this but don’t remember your answer: do you have the latest (75th Anniversary) Joy of Cooking? Even though I don’t much like the original Joy (you can tell the authors *hate* to cook), this one is very good, mostly because the grandson completely revised it, and he *loves* to cook. I thought, ‘who would know German Potato Salad better than a Rombauer?’ And sure enough, it’s prominently featured among the traditional potato salad recipes.

So, for two pounds of boiled waxy potatoes (I dug some Carolas out of the garden), you saute 4 minced slices of bacon with some fine dice celery and onion until it starts to get golden, then you add the sliced potatoes plus the boiled dressing — 1/4 cup chicken broth, 1/2 cup cider vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon
mustard powder, pinch of paprika — and there you have it…but it’s not as good (rich, full-bodied) as Gary’s. So game on: your move.

I’m pretty sure I remember Mom preparing something like this a few times. It wasn’t in her rotation, but it must be a Martha recipe that you requested, or that she dug out a few times, so the potential is that it’s stored somewhere in the archives.

Plus, I want to know more about this whole “German Village” thing in Columbus. I’ve heard it mentioned a million times, but I’ve never been told what it was, how it got there, or why it’s significant…our family was not “German” but were there other ties?

–E

THE GERMAN VILLAGE THING

My senior year at the Ohio State University School of Architecture, 1960-61, with Professor Richard Miller, we took on the urban study of German Village as a class project. We studied the existing conditions, recommended standards for rehabilitation of existing buildings and formulated guidelines for new construction.

German Village, within walking distance of downtown Columbus is now a thriving urban neighborhood and tourist destination.

gv_brick_house

gv_gray_house

From the German Village Society website:

A Vibrant, Rejuvenated Neighborhood
Urban renewal’s bulldoze-and-rebuild philosophy hit Columbus’ South End in the early 1950s. Using federal Urban Renewal Program funds, the City of Columbus leveled large areas, including the northern third of the old South End between Main Street and Livingston Avenue.
The remainder of the South End was seriously deteriorated and a prime candidate for leveling. But then neighborhood activism intervened, embodied by Frank Fetch, the founder of the German Village movement. Fetch purchased his first property in the South End in 1949 in the belief that the area could be restored to an attractive, livable neighborhood. Energized by Fetch’s spirit, activists formed the German Village Society in 1960 to promote the preservation and rehabilitation of the neighborhood.
At the time, Fetch’s dream of reversing urban blight through preservation and rehabilitation was a radical approach. Ironically, the same characteristics that urban renewal studies of Columbus used to describe “blight” are the very attributes that give German Village its unique and appreciated character today-small lots, narrow streets, and the absence of new development. Those attributes brought working-class people armed with dreams and elbow grease back to German Village. Significantly, this Village revitalization has been privately funded without the aid of government programs or subsidies of any kind.
The City of Columbus officially recognized historic preservation activities in its South End in July
of 1960 by renaming the area German Village.

Back in Columbus for my High School Reunion in 2006, nieces Traci, Kelli, her husband Tom and I guided each other on a walking tour of German Village, including lunch at the famous Schmidt’s Restaurant.

Here are some notes of the tour, published on rectorsite and eatsforone at the time.

Saturday, August 19, 2006
The air was wet but not hot as I walked in the office park at 8 a.m. I was very conscious of where I was and how to get back… roads and parking lots and roads and parking lots and ponds and greenery meld into sameness surrounding the very designed and unique but unknown office buildings scattered about.

I called Kelli and they’ll pick me up at 10:30. We picked up Traci in Hilliard (geez, Hilliard was a grimy spot on map in the middle of fields back in the day… now it’s professional suburbia personified) and proceeded to German Village, passing by the site of the old penitentiary and through the Arena District around the Columbus Clippers hockey arena. Tom made a quick drive about the village and parked on Third Street and we walked.

That's me on the sidewalk

That's me on the sidewalk

Traci on the corner

Traci on the corner

It was only a little humid and a little hot, but we were really glad to walk into the cool Schmidt’s Restaurant and Sausage Haus.

gv_Schmidt

Just inside the door is a big deli case filled with Schmidt’s sausages. Kinda gets you in the mood. We were seated by a window and offered menus and invited to take a look at the buffet. We all ordered the buffet and medium (22 ounce) beers of various types, mine a light Belgium. I laid a bed of white cabbage, red cabbage and German scalloped potatoes and topped that with a chunk of each kind of the five Schmidt’s sausages. White cabbage tart, red cabbage sweet, potatoes creamy, sausages many flavors of good. What a lunch. I felt so good I bought.

My lunch. Yum.

My lunch. Yum.

Walking off the meal was good, too. Recalling the days when German Village was my senior class thesis at Ohio State, I took them on a walk meandering through the Village on the narrow, treed, rough brick and cobblestone streets. The houses are good solid stock and any new ones are of a quality to match. As we were coming back to the car, Tom said it was nice to walk; they had never really walked around the Village before, always came to a destination and left.

RECIPE

“Mom’s” German Potato Salad
MR 8.21.10 modified after cooking and eating

5 ounces thick bacon, chopped small
2 pounds potatoes, peeled
1 big onion, chopped
1/3 cup potato water
1/2 cup vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
salt and pepper along the way and to taste.

Slice and par-boil the potatoes (takes about 15 minutes from cold.) Cook the potatoes and reserve some starchy potato water for the sauce. Let the potatoes sit in the hot water off the heat until the sauce is ready.
In a large saute pan or wok over medium heat, fry bacon until crisp. Remove to paper towels to drain.
Saute onions in the bacon fat until caramelized (this takes a while).
Return bacon to wok, add water and de-glaze, add vinegar and sugar, stir and cook until it bubbles.
Pour over the hot sliced potatoes. Serve warm.

That turned out damn good. Served with Lamb Crepinettes and haricot vert cooked with bacon and smoked paprika.

gps_dinner_served

The Lamb Crepinettes have a story of their own. Look for it.

3 thoughts on “Mom’s German Potato Salad

  1. Bravo – and Gezhundheit.

    Half my roots are German -and my grandmother’s german potato salad was my favorite thing she made.
    You’ve recreated a close, actually my memory is saying perfect version – I’m going to make it and see how the taste measures up – and try and dig out her recipe.

    I forwarded eatsforone to Jeff’s sister and her husband – they lived in German Village in the early 70’s and we visited them frequently – right as it was being gentrified. Great place even back then.

    Sally

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  2. I remember Mom’s receipe. I typically dont like trad potato salad (cause of the mayo). But her warm German potato salad was da bomb. I’m wondering if Lynn’s grandparents (German) had anything to do with that receipe? It may have predated our marriage…regardless, Kel and I are going to take a shot at it. Thanks for the research.

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  3. I have fond memories of German Village. I moved to Columbus after college in Michigan to start a business. However to support myself I worked as a stock broker, at a bank and at the German Village Store all at once. Working at the store owned by Bob Thomas at the time was my favorite. Walking down to Schmidts for a hamburger and german potato salad. Evening meal at Max & Erma’s (it’s hard to believe it is found in many other states now). Just a wonderful place back in the 70’s. The store is no longer and few people remember it. But I miss it and the Village.

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