The Idle American: My Mother’s Potato Salad

Cubed potato salad as it has appeared at many church dinners. Image; Betty Crocker

“The best things in life are free,” he said. “And the worst things in life are sugar-free.”

Soon after the inception of this column more than 15 years ago, I committed to sharing noteworthy recipes with readers from time to time. A dozen weeks into my writing regimen, I shared a cinnamon toast recipe.

It elicited no response–favorable or otherwise–so I have been reluctant to make culinary suggestions–until now. I expect no drumrolls, but I do admit “chest-swelling” with the mere mention of my saintly mother’s potato salad.

So far as I know, she never used a recipe. Somehow, though, with a “pinch of this and a ‘smidgen’ of that,” my mom concocted just-the-right blend every time. The salad had savory flavors, never overpowering with onion, but with a “hint” that would cause folks to turn away if they were “downwind” from my “exhales.” And it was as smooth as a baby’s belly….


   Potato salad prepared by my late mother-in-law was plenty good, but it never achieved “blue ribbon” status. She may have missed the top rung with one vital misstep. She “cubed” the potatoes. (My wife made the same mistake back in the day when she traipsed through the kitchen for reasons other than reaching the pantry where the dark chocolate-covered almonds are hidden.) “Like mother, like daughter” seems to sum up the potato salad recipe which came “part and parcel” with our marriage.

I do not mean to offend devotees who are partial to cubed potato salad. It can never, however, achieve anything more than runner-up recognition.

Now, back to my late mother, who learned to cook on a wood-burning stove. Yes, her “sure as shootin’ best” potato salad had an humble beginning…..

Don Newbury

I have consumed several thousand meals since my mother’s culinary efforts that ended a couple of decades ago.

I’ve taken small portions of potato salad at banquets where I’ve spoken numerous times. I’ve eaten “just a dab,” as she would say. I’ve always figured none would come close to satisfying like hers did.

Imagine my surprise and delight recently when I requested “seconds” on potato salad at a church banquet. Had it featured the “hint of onion,” it would have been equal to my mother’s!…


   My compliments were effusive. Widows honored at the dinner probably tired of hearing my praise. It admittedly went overboard.

Before I commenced with serious remarks, I begged–yes, begged is the word–for the recipe, praying that they’d share it.

As I prepared to leave the church, my host, Bill Mendrop, told me his folks were happy for me to know the potato salad recipe….


   I was euphoric at the prospect of adding a bit of onion, preparatory to enjoying once more the potato salad of my youth. Pen and pad in hand, I was ready to jot down the ingredients.

“Oh, you won’t need to write it down,”Mendrop said. “It is really a simple recipe.”

Color me shocked. It turns out the “recipe” is super simple. “We just pick up two gallons of potato salad at Walmart–one with a mayonnaise base and the other mustard. Then, we mix ‘em up, and the salad is ready to serve.” My “timbers” were sufficiently shivered….


   At the dessert table, the folks took the “sweet” desserts first.  Those labeled “sugar-free” were pretty much undisturbed or taken grudgingly.

Mendrop summed it up well.

“The best things in life are free,” he said. “And the worst things in life are sugar-free.”…


   I’m ready for some warm weather. In the Metroplex, we’ve suffered through a seemingly tornadic draft in recent days.

Okay, so I’m talking about the National Football League draft.

It amazes me how so many people take it so seriously. My Uncle Mort said if Jesus had shown up during the NFL draft, some of the diehards in Cowboy jerseys would have sought permission to be late for the Second Coming….


   Dr. Newbury is a former educator who “commits speeches” round about. Comments/inquiries to: [email protected]. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: Twitter: @donnewbury. Facebook: don newbury.

Don Newbury is the author of the humorous, inspirational, and autobiographical When the Porch Light’s On. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

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