Why your mama’s potato salad is best

“Happiness is like potato salad; when shared with others, it’s a picnic.” – Anonymous

Why is it that everyone who makes potato salad thinks that theirs is the absolute best? Surely I’m not the only one who has noticed this. People seem to want all potato salad to be just like their mother’s was, or perhaps how their grandmother’s was, and they don’t stray far from that basic recipe when they make it themselves. They’ll practically fight you over the correct number of boiled eggs, or whether to even include them. 

As I went through various old cookbooks this week searching for interesting potato salad recipes, from church cookbooks to The Progressive Farmer’s Southern Cookbook to Bell’s Best Recipes, I found quite a few different ways to make it. Some of the variations I found were:

  • Add a jar of drained pimiento peppers
  • Add 1/4 cup mustard
  • Add a chopped onion
  • Add sweet relish
  • Add dill relish
  • Add chopped hard-boiled eggs
  • Add chopped bell peppers
  • Add chopped celery
  • Add French dressing
  • Add half of a small jar of capers
  • Add balsamic vinegar

The list could truly go on and on. 

True to form, I love my mother’s potato salad more than anyone else’s. She kept it simple. Each ingredient she put into it added a note that, for me, created the perfect combination of flavors. She didn’t use chopped celery, for example; instead, she used celery seed. I am not sure if she did this because my little sister or I wouldn’t eat crunchy celery when we were small, or perhaps she had run out of celery when making it once, and decided that she enjoyed the flavor of the celery seed she substituted for it. Whatever its origin in mama’s kitchen, that’s the way I do it now in mine.

She also used dill pickles. However, she was frugal, so she didn’t buy dill relish; she bought the less-expensive Mount Olive dill chips, and she’d have my sister or me mince them up by hand for the salad. I still remember cutting along the little lines on each dill chip with the little paring knife on a cutting board, making a game of it.

Further, she only used Duke’s mayonnaise in our kitchen, as I’ve mentioned before, because it wasn’t a sweet mayo, like many others, and it had the perfect savory flavor for the potato salad. I continue that in my own kitchen, too.

My mother didn’t add onions to her version, which my husband just couldn’t believe the first time he tried it, because his own mom has always been a bit heavy-handed with the raw onion, in my opinion. (Don’t tell her I said that, y’all.) But because she did, that’s how he likes it.

My mom used mayonnaise, but… gasp… no mustard. See above paragraph about my husband. Repeat with mustard as the subject. His sweet mom is crazy about it and uses plenty of it when assembling a potato salad.

Whenever I’ve gone to dinner on the grounds at church over the years, or visited a deli with reputedly good potato salad, I’ve given different versions a chance. I’ve sampled the mustard-y, onion-y, warm, cold, crunchy, mushy, and even vinegar-infused versions, trying my best to be open-minded. I’ve managed to get used to my mother-in-law’s potato salad, and I like it pretty well, but what it boils right down to is this: My mother’s potato salad is the best.

Mama’s potato salad


  • 1 1/2 pounds red potatoes, boiled, peeled, and chopped into about 1 1/2-inch dice
  • 5 eggs, hard-boiled, peeled, and chopped
  • 3 heaping tablespoons dill pickle relish
  • 3/4 cup to 1 cup Duke’s mayonnaise
  • 1/16 to scant 1/8 teaspoon celery seed (proceed slowly, as it as a bold flavor)
  • 4 slices bacon, cooked, cooled, and crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon salt


Place potatoes and eggs in a mixing bowl (I cut both into generous chunks, as I don’t want the salad to turn to mush.)

Add relish, mayonnaise, celery seed, crumbled bacon and salt to the bowl. Use spatula to mix gently until well-combined. Then add the chopped eggs and fold in with the spatula so they don’t break up too much.

When all is combined and ingredients are equally distributed throughout, give the salad a taste and adjust seasoning according to your preference. 

Serve either when still somewhat warm, or if serving later, cover and chill until ready to serve. 

As I said, this is a simple recipe, and I hope you’ll try it as-is before you add other ingredients, just so you can see how the original recipe tastes. Then, if you like, you can add your chopped onion or a bit of mustard or whatever you like. 


“It is always wise to make too much potato salad. Even if you are cooking for two, make enough for five. Potato salad improves with age – that is, if you are lucky enough to have any left over.” – Laurie Colwin

Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is “Mama Steph.” She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home. She is married and has three young adult sons who love their mother’s potato salad best. You can find more of her recipes at whatsouthernfolkseat.com and at Facebook.com/whatsouthernfolkseat.

Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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