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Praise be to the family potato salad
Tom Purcell
Tom Purcell

I face a huge responsibility this Labor Day weekend: I’ve been tasked with making my mother’s sacred potato salad recipe.

According to “All About Potatoes,” it is widely believed that Germany is where the American version of potato salad originated.

The potato, which is native to South America, was brought by explorers to Europe in the 16th century. It eventually spread throughout Europe.

As Germans immigrated to America in the 19th century, they brought their potato salad recipes with them.

A few decades later, the French invented my favorite condiment, mayonnaise, which was “the starting point of the potato salad that many Americans know to this day.”

There are surely a million or more potato salad recipes across our country. Every family has its own version and every family is certain its recipe is the very best.

My mother’s potato salad recipe is based on the one she got from my dad’s mother, Grandma Beatrice, who was of German descent.

But unlike German potato salad, which is typically served warm, my mother’s recipe includes ice cold potatoes, sliced hard-boiled eggs, crisp celery and a watery, vinegary mayonnaise mix.

It’s my favorite dish on Earth. I think I know why.

The only time we enjoy my mother’s potato salad is during festive summer gatherings. In a good year, it might be served only four or five times.

My greatest potato salad memory as a kid involves my school district’s “Kennywood Day,”  when we spent the whole day at the Kennywood amusement park.

My mother packed the cooler full of her amazing fried chicken and potato salad. We’d arrive at the picnic pavilion in the morning, hit the rides and roller-coasters and play all day.

Then we’d return to the pavilion for dinner at 5 p.m. absolutely famished. The chicken and potato salad were ice cold and to this day the most delicious things I have ever devoured.

Since potato salad is a fairly labor-intensive creation and hard on my mother’s aging hands, it’s now my turn to carry on the family recipe.

Unfortunately, the festivity long associated with my mother’s recipe — the festivity of family gatherings and forgetting our adult worries — is not so strong anymore.

With COVID variants spreading still — my sister recently caught one, and is back to good health, but two elderly family members died because of their infections — we have to keep our distance from our elderly parents.

Members of our large extended family, as is probably the case with most extended families, hold differing points of view about the efficacy of the COVID vaccine and those differences are causing squabbles and discontent.

There’s also great sadness from the chaos in Afghanistan and the deaths of 13 young U.S. soldiers. We’re sad, too, that it seems nobody is in command of our government affairs and we’re worried that even greater unpleasantness is about to visit our world.

As hopeful Americans, however, we will do our best to carry on. We will pray for our political leaders, our country, those suffering around the world and our family.

But at the small gathering at my mom and dad’s this weekend, we’ll do our best to momentarily forget the troubles of the world and concentrate on the joy that my mother’s potato salad always brings.

The pressure is tremendous, but I can’t wait to see how well I did.

Tom Purcell is an author and humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Email him at