I have been making a homely supper/indoor picnic for my friends, while re-perusing the classic spiral bound cookbook White Trash Cooking, and debating about what sort of potato salad to make. That's not the potato salad you see there, but another not-so- green salad, to be named later. I figure just about every body knows what a basic American potato salad looks like.
I had a big mason jar of Clem's ambrosial barbeque sauce that I brought home with me, which I do, pretty much annually, stopping at Clem's barbeque pit on the way back from our work conference in State College, PA. I also bring home half a rack of fire-pit barbequed ribs- but those disappear shortly after I make sure the cats are okay, and well before I unpack. A week or so later, I make a supper of pulled pork sandwiches, coleslaw, potato salad, and some kind of cobbler or pie. It's a thing.
The coleslaw recipe is a fixture- non-negotiable, in this context, anyhow. but I am always open to potato salad variations, from the hokiest to the haute-ist. Potato salad is a tremendously versatile dish, a blank canvas for the painting of, well whatever- I'll let this wonky metaphor fade on out- you probably know what I mean, anyway. For this meal, though, I thought something down-homey would be compatible- hence the book.
Whenever I consult WTC, I am surprised and a little embarassed to recall just how little most of the recipes appeal to me. I think of myself as a lover of plain home cooking, fried chicken, biscuits, greens, etc, but much of this stuff is pretty sickly, though intriguing. A lot of processed foodis involved- cake mix dumped on some peaches for a cobbler, canned vegetables and soups in casseroles, and the like. The book is full of strong, admirable characters, and is utterly noncondescending- so what am I, some kind of food snob? I don't know. I certainly don't scorn the use of humble, unlikely, or hokey ingredients- I make a chicken thing with coca-cola- and it's good. But a ton of these recipes-I can tell I'd hate them.
I greatly prefer, southern/country cooking-wise, most of the recipes in the books of Edna Lewis, with or without Scott Peacock, her buddy, fellow chef, and, at the end- her caretaker. There are lots of recipes with titles that are the same as those in WTC, but they are different, sound good, and taste good when you make them. You can tell they come from the same place and time- Scott Peacock even recalls the very same cake-mix cobbler recipe, as being tasty, but a bit "oversweet". He notes that while his mother used supermarket biscuits in her blackberry cobbler- he makes his from scratch. These guys are chefs, though, not home cooks like me. E.L. was from a country cooking tradition, but she was a sophisticated person, who spent many years cooking professionally, and writing about food.
I guess these two were looking to the food of the generation before S.P.'s mother's era...folks who didn't have the option of adding gratuitous doses of chemical novelties to the food they grew and raised. When all that stuff appeared for the first time- cake mix, Cool Whip, packaged biscuits, jello and pudding, it must have been irresistable, fun and magical-especially to people who did hard physical work all day, and were used to a lot of laborious cooking as well. Once considered special, and a treat, these instant gratification foods are so much a part of our culture that we may be considered annoying elitists if we avoid them .
Surprisingly, though, these two cookbooks offer virtually the same potato salad recipe, except that the Lewis/Peacock version has cider vinegar, and the WTC one uses pickle juice. So that's what I made, and it is nice. It is basically boiled potatoes, cubed, mayo, a little chopped onion, a little brown mustard, hard-boiled egg yolks, a little cider vinegar, salt and pepper. Very basic, very good. I generally add a little celery seed and some finely chopped fennel or celery.The more egg yolks you add, the better it is, no question There is no potato salad more elemental, and pretty much everyone eats it.
Which brings me to the salad you see in the photo- this is a "BLT Salad", which sounds like a refugee from WTC, but was actually found in a Lewis/Peacock book. Like the potato salad, it has an added luster when prepared mostly from fresh veg from my CSA farmbox. (The coleslaw, too- there was a crispy, beautiful cabbage this week.) This is how you make it:
Wash and dry some very crispy lettuce- we had romaine, (but even iceberg would be better than something soft or buttery), cut it up and top with chunky croutons, freshly made from good white bread; crispy bacon cut into squares; and a beautiful tomato or two, cut into smallish cubes. Add salt and pepper, and just before serving, toss with just enough good mayonaisse to coat it lightly. So very good. But how could it not be?
There is some green in this salad after all, but what with the bacon and mayo, it ain't exactly your palate-cleansing pile-o-greens. Still.