It was the year 1908 – the year Famous Old Receipts: Used a Hundred Years and More in the Kitchens of the North and the South was published. Now, typically, I would tell you about 1908, or at least the years surrounding 1908, since that’s when this cookbook was published, but this cookbook is about recipes used for over 100 years prior to the book’s publication. So, let’s talk about those 100 years. What happened in America between 1808 and 1908? A lot is the answer to that question!
In 1808, America was still brand new. It was a country with seventeen states, and its capital had only just moved to Washington D.C. in 1800. James Madison was elected President after Thomas Jefferson finished his second term, and the major political parties of the day were the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans (also known as Jeffersonian Republicans). It was an era of expansion. The Louisiana Purchase had been made; Lewis and Clark recently finished their expedition; and “Manifest Destiny” was about to become the slogan that allowed America to reach “from sea to shining sea.”
Between 1808 and 1908, America added twenty-nine new states to its map, becoming a country of forty-six states. It went through three major wars – the War of 1812, the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War – as well as over fifty smaller wars, battles, and rebellions mostly against Native American tribes. It saw twenty-four different presidents in office that led it through the Plantation Era and the Second Great Awakening to Manifest Destiny and the California Gold Rush to the Civil War and Reconstruction to the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era. It went from a country ruled only by white, English men of class to a country working toward equal rights for women, African Americans, and immigrants.
The hundred years between 1808 and 1908 were a time for invention, too. Everyday people came to use and/or enjoy thousands of new things including dental floss, doorbells, sewing machines, baseball, doughnuts, dishwashers, elevators, potato chips, toilet paper on a roll, salt shakers, electric stoves, escalators, vacuum cleaners, jelly beans, postcards, breakfast cereal, cowboy hats, paper bags, American football, diner restaurants, blue jeans, phonographs, cash registers, salt water taffy, screen doors, drinking straws, ballpoint pens, pay phones, the Ferris wheel, zippers, cotton candy, teddy bears, tea bags, air conditioning, airplanes, cars, and paper towels.
So, what are we cooking? Potato salad from Famous Old Receipts: Used a Hundred Years and More in the Kitchens of the North and the South published in 1908.
I wish so much that there was more to this recipe – a short bio about Mrs. John Poe, perhaps. How did she use this recipe? Was it her grandmother’s? Was it handed down to her. But, sometimes in history, there are just dark spaces and blank spots. That’s why I keep telling you to find stories. Write them down. Share your memories! It’s so important to keep history alive. So, let’s go – into the kitchen to make history!
Here are our ingredients: Russet potatoes, olive oil, fresh parsley, onion, red pepper, salt, vinegar, and sour cream.
Step 1: Prepare the potatoes. Now, normally, I would not boil russet potatoes whole. However, the recipe tells me to boil the potatoes, skinned, and then chop them up for the salad. So, I gave it a go as written. It took about thirty to forty minutes before I could pierce the potatoes with a fork.
Truth: I wouldn’t recommend doing it this way. The outsides were too mushy to work with, and the insides weren’t cooked evenly. So, for this step, here’s what I would recommend instead: cut your potatoes into bite-size pieces and boil them for 8-10 minutes. Boil them until you can pierce them, but they don’t fall apart. That’s the perfect consistency for salad! Then, let them cool.
Step 2: I didn’t know what “rubbing” oil, parsley, and onion entailed, so I just added them to a bowl and whisked them together. Clearly, you can see that I chopped up the onion and parsley pretty finely. You should do that too!
Step 2.1: Here they are all mixed together – my new definition of “rubbed.”
Step 3: Add in the red pepper (also finely chopped), salt, and sour cream.
Step 3.1: You’ll then have a nice, creamy dressing!
Step 4: Add your cooked, chopped, cooled potatoes to the dressing. As you can see, my technique gave me kind of mushy potatoes. But, that’s why I offered you another cooking suggestion. Am I not great?!
Step 5: Fold together the potatoes and the dressing until it looks like potato salad!
Final step: You should eat this in the summer… with a hot dog or a hamburger… at a picnic… outside. Or, you know, just anytime an occasion calls for potato salad. This potato was really different from what I usually eat when it comes to potato salad. It was very… bright. Does that make sense? It was creamy, but the tanginess of the vinegar and the fresh parsley and red pepper… popped, I guess! It was very flavorful and bright!
Like I said, I wish we knew more about this particular recipe. It made its way into a book celebrating recipes used for over 100 years prior to 1908. But, we just don’t know. So, we can make up a story! I like to imagine that Mrs. John Poe’s grandmother made this recipe in the 1870s. Maybe Mrs. Poe and her siblings traveled by steam engine to the country to visit their grandmother every summer. They’d send their mother a postcard when they arrived to let her know they were safe. Then, they’d spend the summer eating breakfast cereal, helping gran cook (Mrs. Poe got to use the biscuit cutter to cut out the biscuits), and playing football in the field. On Sundays, gran would pack them all lunches in paper bags and they’d picnic and swim in the stream until it got dark.
Gran always packed creamy, tart potato salad. That’s what Mrs. Poe remembered from her childhood – the taste of the bright, vinegary goodness and the warm sun on her face carelessly blown away by the cool breeze coming off the stream. That’s what she remembered, and that’s why she published that recipe. Hopefully, someone else could enjoy that potato salad and have their own memories with it just like she did.
From 1908: Potato Salad
- 3-4 russet potatoes
- 4 Tbs. olive oil
- 1/2 onion, chopped finely
- 6 sprigs parsley, chopped finely
- 1/2 red pepper, chopped finely
- 1 tsp. salt
- 4 Tbs. white vinegar
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- Wash, peel, and chop the potatoes into bite-size pieces. Boil them for 8-10 minutes or until easy pierced with a fork. Do not overcook. Drain and cool.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil, onion, and parsley.
- Add in the red pepper, salt, vinegar, and sour cream. Mix to form a creamy dressing.
- Fold in the cooled potatoes. Chill until served.