I asked my mother one day for her potato salad recipe. It was the one she used, which was the one my grandmother used, and as far as I know, it could be a recipe that has spanned even more generations in my family.
One of the ingredients used in the recipe, according to my mother, was one capful of white vinegar. This was for five pounds of potato salad.
Every time I made the salad, following precisely what my mother had told me to do, she would tell me there was something wrong. I could never figure it out. I used the same brands of mayonnaise and bacon she did. I used the potatoes she recommended and sliced my celery so thin, it only had one side. I sprinkled with celery seed. What was I missing?
One holiday, my sister Bean was at my house, and yet again, I was giving my mother’s potato salad recipe a go. I cooked, I peeled, I chopped, I assembled. Then it was time for the cap of vinegar. I carefully measured, not one drop more or less than exactly one capful.
Bean looked at me.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m putting the vinegar in the potato salad.”
“That’s not enough.”
“Yes it is. Mommy said she uses one cap of vinegar.”
“Well, yeah, she uses the cap, but she pours the vinegar into the cap and lets it drizzle over the sides of the cap onto the whole potato salad. She probably puts a good quarter of a cup in there.”
You can see now why I will never be a good cook.
But aside from my failing to understand that “one cap” meant “one quarter of a cup”, I love the fact that I now know how to make this potato salad. I hope one day, one of my kids will want to learn how to make it.
Food is one of the ways we stay connected to previous generations. I consistently put onto my family’s table food that came from my mom, one of my grandmoms, or even an aunt or uncle. And as I prepare it, I feel the connection. I watch my hands chop onions for clam sauce, and I can almost see my mom’s hand, when I was a kid, doing it for her sauce. As I mix my crab cakes, I can remember my Aunt Annie making her’s, and it sends a flood of memories of her over me, wrapping me up like a warm blanket.
Today, I am thankful for potato salad. And for the women in my life who have shared this connections with me.