Home Audrey’s Travel Recipes The Southern Potato Salad of the Great U.S. South

The Southern Potato Salad of the Great U.S. South

By Audrey Hart

Citizens in the U.S. South often get a bad rap. But it’s not due to lack of humor. In a sense, they’re very much like the Swedish pop group, ABBA; where we think we’re laughing at them, but they’re really laughing at themself, and asking us to join along.

I just received this from Amber Sutton of It’s a Southern Thing. It’s devoid of any recipes, but filled with good old fashion Southern fun.

Photograph courtesy of Home Team BBQ via Southern Living.

But, first, here’s my little story, a story about mayonnaise when I once took a delightful trip to Mahón, the capital and second largest city of Menorca, Spain. A chef presented a sauce, which he referred to as, mahonnaise. It was created with only two ingredients: eggs and oil. And the result was, as I should say in Dixie, Southernly Good!

Nevertheless, many places lay claim to be the birth of mayonnaise, with southwestern France as the most vocal. But, I still really think its origin can be traced to Mahón, which is also the home of Mahón Gin, made from high-quality wine alcohol, mixed with Pyrenean juniper berries, as well as other aromatic herbs.

Now that I’m at it, there’s Avarcas – also known as Abarcasor Menorquinas – the traditional sandals of Menorca, where the soles are made from the rubber tread of a used tire. They last forever, in fact, yesterday I had planned to wear my life-long pair for an afternoon of beachcombing along Seattle’s Golden Gardens – but as a rather rain intolerant Angelino, I cancelled my trip due to reports of bad weather. This was much to the chagrin of my Seattle friends, where daily bad weather is not unusual and something to be ignored. They also don’t seem to mind wading in rock-infested waters with old tennis shoes to avoid blood on their feet, and then staggering out of the frigid NW water, and tangled in seaweed, too.

Okay, that was fun, now back to Potato Salad, but not necessarily Southern.

There’s a particularly tantalizing French potato salad from France, which we curiously refer to here as French Potato Salad, which is made with plenty of mayonnaise and delicately chopped hard boiled eggs. But, there’s also another, which stems from Eastern Europe, without eggs and mayonnaise, but with an abundant amount of more potatoes, vinegar and mustard. It can taste a bit harsh to the innocent palate, but I find it to be equally tasteful and, well, invigorating.

And how could I forget…

Wild tubers were first domesticated around 8,000 years ago by farmers who lived on the high plains and mountain slopes near Lake Titicaca, which borders modern-day Bolivia and Peru. The tubers grew well in the cold, harsh climate and quickly took root as a centerpiece around which life revolved. Photograph courtesy of Alex Brouwer, former Peace Corp. Volunteer.

Yes, that I had forgot that there was a carefully cultivated root, high in the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes, that over many millenniums, became what we know today as the Potato. And through the Columbian Exchange – from the New World to the Old- life in the European nations of the North transitioned to a new form of nutrients,no longer having rely on wheat from the warm Mediterranean climate.

But, in the end, whether it’s mayonnaise or mustard with plenty of vinegar in your potato salad, it’s all about your preference of the palate, but for me; I seem to adore them all.

And, I try not laugh when I read about Southern Things; for it’s far more than finger lickin’ good, getting too drunk and laughing too loud, and hitting on a cousin at a family barbecue — how could I even dare, with the names of William Faulker, Mark Twain, Thomas Wolfe, Flannery O’Connor, Tennessee Williams, William Dickey, Pat Conroy, William Saroyan, John Kennedy Toole, Walker Percy and Truman Capote, with his blemishes and all. Now, I’ve just stolen and revised a line from and Adam Sandlers’ Chanukah Song: “And what do they all have in common? All Southerners!”
— Audrey

In defense of Southern ‘salads’ because who needs lettuce anyway?

By Amber Sutton

Photograph of Southern Potato Salad courtesy of Shutterstock.

We Southerners get a lot of grief for a lot of things when it comes to our common kitchen practices, and one of those things is our affection for throwing the word “salad” into the name of dishes that aren’t really salads (to them) but are really delicious (to everyone).

I should start off by saying as someone who has lived my entire life in the South, it’s something I hadn’t honestly given a-whole-lot of thought until I started working at It’s a Southern Thing and realized that calling things that seem to involve every ingredient under the sun except lettuce a “salad” is, well, a Southern thing to do.

This is where I get stuck, though. Who said lettuce is a necessary ingredient when it comes to making a salad in the first place? After all, the official definition of a salad, according to Oxford Languages, is “a cold dish of various mixtures of raw or cooked vegetables, usually seasoned with oil, vinegar, or other dressing and sometimes accompanied by meat, fish, or other ingredients,”

Potato salad, strawberry-pretzel salad, pasta salad, tomato-cracker salad, egg salad, chicken salad, tuna salad, pear salad, Coke salad, ambrosia salad and many other iconic Southern salads easily fit that description, so the conclusion I’ve drawn is that Southerners actually just have a better grasp on what a salad can be.

So, are all those salad cynics just jealous because Southerners don’t have to settle for sad salads consisting of a handful of lettuce and raw vegetables coated in ranch dressing? Because the South had the audacity to see the potential for salads to be treated as what they basically are — casseroles you keep cold? That’s definitely what it seems like.

Now the next argument that will likely be made is how salads are supposed to be healthy and the South’s most popular salads typically aren’t on account of usually involving a heavy helping of mayonnaise or cheese or sugar. And there’s probably some truth to that — with lettuce coming in at all of five calories per cup, there’s not much out there that is as healthy as your standard garden salad. There’s also not much on its level when it comes to lacking in flavor.

See, we like to start our salads off using a healthy(ish) ingredient, and then add a kick of taste so that we, believe it or not, actually want to eat it. That’s the goal, right? Because many folks spend the entire car ride to the potluck daydreaming about getting a scoop or two of Granny’s famous potato salad, but we’re pretty sure no one in the history of time has said “man, I have been thinking about this garden salad for days.”

So yeah, we may coat the broccoli in our broccoli salad with bacon, cheese and a sweet, creamy dressing before we eat it, but we also enjoy eating it. That’s the real difference between Southern salads and the salads you’ll find elsewhere — we’re not eating them because we’re trying to be healthy. We’re eating them because we want to.

So, you know what, y’all can keep giving us grief about what dishes we call salads if it means we get an extra serving of Mama’s macaroni salad. We imagine swallowing your pride is pretty hard to do when all you’ve got to wash it down is some boring lettuce and a couple grape tomatoes anyway.

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