An Independence Day Potato Salad Primer

An Independence Day Potato Salad Primer

Every month, with wheelbarrow at the ready, I toddle over to a fine local independent pharmacy to pick up a large order of prescription medicines. 

After the toddle, I generally stop by the nearby Versailles Avenue digs of a legendary culinary icon, Mrs. Bagley. Mrs. Bagley wrote a food blog called “The Cooking Perfectionist.” 

Coincidentally, Mrs. Bagley has a name similar to that of another legendary local writer and culinarian, Mrs. Dagley. In the 1970s, Mrs. Dagley graced the old Island Journal newspaper pages with her cooking column: “A Visit With Mrs. Dagley.” 

Mrs. Dagley was a kind, sweet- looking, grandmotherly lady who resembled the late crooner Minnie Pearl. She specialized in writing simple comfort food recipes, for stuff like lasagne, candied carrots, steamed persimmon pudding, lemon-jello shrimp salad and oatmeal-apple crisp. 

Mrs. Dagley’s light-hearted manner stands in vivid contrast to that of Mrs. Bagley. Mrs. Dagley’s happy, sweet, grandmotherly ways have been supplanted by the dead- serious, perfectionist, ego-driven persona of Mrs. Bagley, who closely resembles cooking maven Martha Stewart. 

Mrs. Dagley’s simple and inexpensive comfort food recipes have been replaced by Mrs. Bagley’s complex and costly treatises to culinary perfection. In Mrs. Bagley’s kitchen, many obscure, eclectic and expensive ingredients are carefully sourced and procured, stringently measured with scales, templates and magnifying glasses, precisely prepped, and scientifically cooked. The foods are then painstakingly plated, with diagrams, tweezers, rulers and wipes. 

When I stopped by Mrs. Bagley’s fastidiously restored Craftsman bungalow, she was hard at work at a spotless prep station in her neat, gleaming kitchen, carefully measuring the diameter and thickness of Peruvian purple potato slices with a magnifying glass, template and ruler. 

When I interrupted her, she became stressed and annoyed. She groaned, set down her tweezers and a perfect potato slice, straightened her apron, brushed back her champagne - blond hair, looked at me sternly and asked: 

“Can you feel my eggs?” 

Blindsided by her strange request, I was instantly taken back to the old “Alice” television show, where a sassy waitress, Flo, would tell folks to “Kiss my grits.” 

“Why do you want me to feel your eggs?” I asked, very cautiously. 

“Because I’m going to make mayo for this Peruvian purple potato salad. Duh!” She snapped, in a brusque, sarcastic tone. “Honestly, Bill, I should think that a man with your alleged culinary training would know that one must feel and weigh eggs to ensure uniform yolk densities, so that one’s mayo emulsifies properly, with minimal whisking.” 

“It’s Gil,” I answered. “I haven’t made mayo in years. I save time and money and buy Best Foods. How much time and money are you willing to spend on making potato salad?” 

Mrs. Bagley gave me a withering look, then said, “Phil, if one pursues culinary perfection, one cannot be concerned with time or expense. 

“For example, for this potato salad, I drove four hours to the San Anselmo farmer’s market to buy the Peruvian purple potatoes, at a very high price. I then spent two hours individually parboiling each potato, to ensure they were cooked to the proper temperature in the least amount of time.

“I am now slicing each perfectly cooked potato into rounds that are exactly 1.5 inches in diameter, by 1/16 inch thick. This will guarantee a uniform blending of the potatoes’ starches with the mayo binder, while yielding a pleasant texture, palatability and flavor profile to the salad. 

“If you add the time for egg - feeling, mayo making, mixing, micro-seasoning and presentation, I would estimate the total time for preparing this dish at around 12 hours. Cost-wise, given the high quality of the ingredients, you’re looking at around $20.00 for a pound of salad.” 

“12 hours and $20.00 for potato salad! That’s crazy!” I yelled. 

I stormed out of Mrs Bagley’s house, popped a high-blood pressure pill from my wheelbarrow, went home and made my Independence Day potato salad recipe, which isn’t perfect — it’s simply potato salad. 

Independence Day Potato Salad 

• 2 lbs. potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks 
• 1 cup Best Foods mayonnaise 
• 2 Tbsp. vinegar 
• 1 1/2 tsp. salt 
• 1 tsp. sugar 
• 1/4 tsp ground black pepper 
• 1 cup thinly sliced celery 
• 1/2 cup chopped onion 
• 2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped (optional) 

1. Cover potatoes with water in 4-quart saucepot; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and cool slightly. 

2. Combine mayo, vinegar, salt, sugar and pepper in large bowl. Add potatoes, celery, onion and eggs and toss gently. Serve chilled or at room temperature. 

Food snobs beware at