Potatoes to Potato Salad

January rains keep the mist close to our strawbale, timberframe house here on Mayne Island. Daylight feels like it may never arrive today on the Southwest Coast of British Columbia, Canada. I hardly notice. Early this morning, I set off on a memory journey to a hot July day in a more northern part of the province. The year is 1966. I will soon be eight, as my birthday is near the end of August. My younger brother and I are staying with our grandmother Mona (Granny) at the family homestead on the Stuart River.

It is early morning and haying time. My grandfather has already left for the fields. We are in the garden with Granny gathering vegetables for potato salad. Already the sun has licked the dew off vibrant green broccoli leaves as they reach skyward from their well-spaced rows. Butterflies loop their way from one plant to another searching for any hidden dampness. Thankfully, it was too warm for the multitudes of mosquitoes which would savagely dive bomb our skin again come evening. I hear bees buzzing in the tall borage plants that are leaning their fuzzy foliage out into the path near the entrance to the garden. Keeping my bare legs clear so as not to get accidently stung, I follow barefoot behind my Granny as she thins, picks, prunes and digs things up to go in her large basin that we will then take down onto the wharf in the river and wash for slug, cut worm and aphid expulsion.

My brother went directly to the carrot patch pulling up one carrot after another. The ones that are too small he pokes back into the ground – until my grandmother turns around and catches him.

“Ack!” She exclaims. We always froze mid-movement when she (or our mother) made this sound.

“If you pull them out you have to eat them.” She pauses to ensure my brother is looking at her and really listening. He is only five.

Her voice softens as she continues “When you pull up the carrot it won’t grow anymore even if you put it back in the ground. Look for the bigger ones and only pull what you are going to eat.” He nods and following her example, begins to look for the fatter tops of the carrots showing slightly above the dusty soil.

We gathered new potatoes, carrots, peas, radishes, a few green beans, small onions, parsley, and sprigs of dill. Having washed everything in the river, our wet feet prints follow my grandmother’s up the wood dock towards the house. We now had all the makings for a potato salad. We were going to have a picnic, complete with Tang orange juice and lettuce with sugar on top for dessert. The older eggs (as they were easier to shell than fresh eggs) had been boiled earlier and were cooling in cold water. The fresh cow’s cream had soured on the counter overnight and Granny had made mayonnaise from scratch.

Using the propane stove, she steamed the vegetables and drained them to cool. The wood cook stove had been allowed to go out after Granny had made us pancakes and moose burgers for breakfast. The rest of the day she would use the propane stove to try and keep the house cool.

Laying newsprint out on the kitchen table we helped to shell hard boiled eggs. My first one got grey and grungy from the ink off the newsprint. But dipped in the pot of water beside us, it came out shiny white again. My brother’s eggs broke in half but that was okay. Chopped up no one would notice. Granny rubbing the inside of her large heavy mixing bowl with fresh garlic and began to slice the soft fragrant items into its smooth surface. With our knees on our chairs and our noses close to the bowl, we watched. First, the potatoes with their jackets still on, then the eggs (with three eggs set aside for later), then the carrots, then the pebbly peas and snapped green beans. They were all sliced into a pile one-on-top-of-other into the bowl. The crisp red radishes and onions were next adding to the mountain of colour and smells.

In a measuring cup, equal amounts of mayonnaise and sour cream are combined with a dash of dried mustard, salt, pepper, lemon juice and shopped dill and parsley. With a twist of the spatchula, the whole works is plopped onto the pile already in the bowl. We are in awe. What a mountain. What a bowl. This is going to be a great picnic. Squirming around we keep our itching fingers out of the mixing. Once folded and mixed, the salad was flattened with the base of the big spoon. The three eggs that had been set aside were sliced and placed on top. Then the whole shebang was sprinkled with paprika – beautiful.

Our Potato salad was taken to the root cellar and set in the ice box to cool and let the flavour mount. The ice had been harvested from the frozen river during late winter and cut into large blocks. The blocks were then placed in the root cellar and covered with sawdust for cold storage during the summer. There was no refrigeration.

We had two whole hours to wait until it was time to pack up the picnic. After stopping to inspect the baby garter snakes sunning themselves on the top of the root cellar, we came back to the house and slide up to the table again. Taking paper, pens, pencils and crayons, we drew mountains of potato salad. Page after page filled with squiggles, circles, and colours depicting how potatoes became potato salad. My brother even had talking potatoes in his drawing.

Sprout Question: What delights and inspires your child-like creativity?

© 2010 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.

Purchase photography at http://www.redbubble.com/people/terrillwelch

Creative Potager – where imagination rules. Be inspired.

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13 thoughts on “Potatoes to Potato Salad

  1. Interesting and well-written post.

    My child-like creativity is inspired by trips to the park or recreation areas with our young kids. It is amazing to just watch them explore–trying to remember when I was like that.

  2. Ah, what a sensory, descriptive piece. I turned 12 in 1966, so you know how old I am now! Ha! But I hung with every word here, as I appreciate the creative process. I have been married for now for 15 years, and my wife and I had five kids in quick succession, two daughters and three sons, ages, 13, 12, 10, 7 and 6. I teach 5th and 6th graders, and by wife is now a Principal after teaching special Education in the same Northern New Jersey school district (where we also live) only 7 minutes across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

    Pleased to meet you!

    • Hello Sam, What a surprise to see you drop by. I have already started to think of you as “the film man.” I am glad you enjoyed the story though at 12 you were probably not as keen on making potato salad as us wee ones were. My husband and I have a collection of eight children. I have two by birth (boy, girl) and two step children (two girls) from a previous relationship. My husband has four children (boy, girl, girl, boy) a little farther apart than yours – but not much. The eight of them are between the ages of 35 and 26. Two grandchildren. And I am pleased to me you:)

  3. This is such beautiful writing. You set the mood so that we are actually there back in 1966. You intricately weave such a beautiful tale that combines so many aspects and finally leads us to mouth-watering plans to make our own potato salad, and to honor the memories of so many associations that might come along.

    • Thank you Kathy for your kind words and feedback. I’ve been encourage to post the recipe… but first I need to write it down because I actually make the salad the same way as I was taught. The measurements are adjusted depending on the size desired.

  4. Beautiful retelling of a childhood memory Terrill; I can practically taste the potato salad with your rich description.

    What delights and inspires my child-like creativity? A big empty work surface.

  5. Terrill, I loved your descriptions of life as a child. Thinking about your wood stove takes me back to our kitchen stove in a little house on the prairies in the early fifties. On Wednesdays during the long, dry summer days, our kitchen table and windowsills were covered with homemade bread, buns, pies and cakes. Wednesday was baking day, and Mum would rise early and start a fire in the stove, so she could put the bread that had risen overnight into the oven.
    Spring, fall or winter, the season didn’t matter. Wednesday was baking day.
    For some reason, Mum’s best friend always came to visit on Wednesday afternoons, bringing her little girl with her. I loved Wednesdays.

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