MORE THAN MEMORial Day, or even the last day of school, my mother's first potato salad signaled the official start of summer.
A family favorite, it went with just about everything.
Barbecue ribs, fried chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers -- anything that can be cooked on a grill or served on a bed of lettuce.
But what potato salad means to me may be very different than what it means to you. There is no single recipe for potato salad.
It varies from region to region, family to family, and even among members of the same family.
Some prefer it all white, some like it yellow.
Some use red potatoes cooked and served in their jackets, others use white potatoes cooked in their jackets and then peeled.
The potatoes can be cubed, sliced or mashed with celery, onion, hard-boiled eggs, bell pepper, relish, dill pickles, pimento or even bacon.
Finally, there is the all-important choice of dressing. In my family it was Miracle Whip salad dressing versus Hellmann's mayonnaise.
Mayonnaise contains egg yolks -- salad dressing does not. Mayonnaise is creamy while salad dressing is sweet and tangy.
My mother preferred Miracle Whip.
She used medium-sized potatoes, cooked with the skin on, then peeled and cut into small cubes.
While the potatoes were still warm, she added salt, pepper, finely chopped celery and onion.
Her version used boiled eggs. But because she didn't care for the taste of chunks of egg yolk in salad, she would first mash them, then mix them in the salad dressing before adding.
The egg whites were chopped separately. Mother used a large platter for mixing -- first spreading the ingredients out, then lightly tossing them together with two large forks.
In this way she avoided what she called "mashed-up potatoes" -- a potato salad faux pas in my family -- and ensured that every single cube of potato was well seasoned.
While I love my mother's potato salad, I prefer Hellmann's mayonnaise. At first my choice was tantamount to treason in my family. But, in time, my potato salad was accepted and even enjoyed.
If I have enough time, I even make mayonnaise.
The result is a creamy, rich dressing, which adds a depth of flavor to potato salad, cole-slaw, deviled eggs and dips.
If you find making mayonnaise too time- consuming you can make a quickie version by simply mixing equal parts of mayonnaise and sour cream together. It's delicious.
For special occasions I have "molded" my potato salad by carefully packing it in a shallow bowl, then turning it over and out onto a platter. (Make sure the bowl is filled to the top.)
Then I "frost" the whole thing with mayonnaise mixed with a shake of dried dill weed. Garnish with a sprig of dill and decorate with black olives around the base.
Sandra Pinckney, a former Baltimore TV journalist, is host of "Food Finds" on the Food Network. Send comments to unisun@baltsun. com.
6 medium all-purpose potatoes cooked, peeled and cubed 1 / 2 cup finely chopped onion 1 cup chopped celery 6 hard-boiled eggs -- mash the egg yolks, chop the whites 3 tablespoons cider vinegar 2 teaspoons kosher salt fresh ground pepper to taste 1 1 / 2-2 cups mayonnaise
Cover potatoes with cold water and cook over moderate heat, partially covered until they are tender.
Drain, and when cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes and cut in uniform 1 / 2 -inch cubes.
Place onions in bowl, or platter.
Cover with the warm, cubed potatoes. Sprinkle with celery, egg whites, cider vinegar, salt and freshly ground pepper.
Using two large forks, gently toss the potatoes to mix in the seasonings.
In a separate bowl, combine mayonnaise with egg yolks. Add to potato mixture and gently mix, careful not to break up the potatoes.
Makes about 2 cups
1 tablespoon cider vinegar 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1 teaspoon dry mustard 2 egg yolks 1 1 / 2 cups vegetable oil, light olive oil or a combination of the two 1 tablespoon hot water
Put the vinegar, lemon juice, salt and mustard into a bowl and whisk until the salt and mustard are dissolved.
Add the egg yolks, and beat until smooth. Add the oil drop by drop at first, and then in a slow, steady stream, whisking or stirring constantly until all of the oil has been incorporated and you have a very thick emulsion.
Stir in the hot water until smooth.
Refrigerated, homemade mayonnaise will keep for up to 1 week.
You can also make this in a food processor.