Grandma’s Potato Salad

From the Recipe Box of: Bert Lev


This is not a recipe card. It is neither on card stock (just cut out, with precision, in the size and shape of one) nor exactly a recipe--as the typed "card" states with distinctive and telling exactitude. My ever the contrarian, butch, Holocaust survivor, statistician grandmother who changed her name from Bertha to Bert, wore men's ties, and worked outside the home her entire life, was a mean cook. And I mean that in both the sense of great skill and a certain strictness regarding health, diet and sanitation and regarding knowledge of how to do something properly. Do not be fooled either by the seeming sentimentality of the name or the apparent simplicity of the preparation--though the lead-up to the recipe gives off it's own warning shots ("since I never measured, simply did it by taste").  I loved her potato salad. The recipe instructs that it can "safely be taken to a picnic." When we visited her in the heat of summer, we always ate it right from the kitchen in the enclosure of a screened porch and served on the side of an exile's plate of as-close-to-German charcuterie as she could source. I have spent decades trying and failing to recreate it. What, after all, qualifies as "good vinegar?" One could cue here a variant of the many Jewish jokes that rewrite the recipes of refugee life and say that to get that particular acidity requires a certain incalculable admixture of survivor's guilt. But, more to the point of how I was schooled by Bert, would be the dictum that, while there is nothing simple about taste, there is simply no replacing it either.

Recipe Story:

This not-a-recipe-card cut out of typing paper was my grandmother Bert Lev's response to the instruction to write a favorite recipe on a specially supplied recipe card for a recipe-box wedding shower. As she did with many of the conscriptions of compulsory femininity, she rejected the floral recipe card, the standard format of the recipe that separates the list of ingredients from the instructions for preparation, and even the very concept of the recipe, but also, in the process made of that refusal and its nots, a DIY recipe of its own.

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