Friday, August 20, 2010

Fine's (Like Crack) Potato Salad and How the Recipe Almost Traumatized Me

My German mother in law, Fine (pronounced Feen-eh - short for Josefine) makes, hands down, the best potato salad I have ever tasted.  It's crack addictive.


Ever since that first bite many years ago, I'm hooked and there's no going back. This potato salad is a delicious dance of sweet and sour and just yum. It's one of the few things my husband and I fight over. We've been known, large spoons in hand, to push each other out of the way to be the one to get to it first.

All bets are off when he, I and that potato salad are in the same room.

Now that's a lot drama surrounding a bowl of kartoffeln but wait until I tell you what happened about four years ago.

Back then Dr. B had accepted a six month position in Iraq with the UN Peacekeeping mission based in Baghdad (he's still there but that's another story.)  When it was confirmed he was going,  I thought to myself, ok, I can take it for six months but as the day drew closer I was becoming more and more anxious. In the meantime, my close friends Wendy and Alan had generously invited me to stay with them in NYC for the duration. Everyone thought it would be easier on me if I wasn't left at home by myself.

We made a plan to leave on the same day, he to Iraq and I to NYC.   He was flying from Düsseldorf and I was flying a bit later from Cologne.  I went with him to the Düsseldorf airport and when we said goodbye I was trying hard not to be a mess.  I'll never forget,  wiping away my tears, he said "I'm coming back to you. I Promise."  Then he handed me an envelope and said "This is my last secret.  Open it when you are on the train."  I shoved it in my pocket.  As we said our last "I love you"s, I reluctantly let go of him and watched him head for security, thinking hard about the word "security" and it's many meanings...

Dr. B in a Black Hawk over Iraq

Once settled on the train to Cologne, the waterworks erupted.  Scared and alone, I was crying so hard I couldn't see. Then I remembered the envelope and what he said.  OK, I wasn't in the best mental condition at the time. All sorts of wild thoughts went through my head as I pulled it out of my pocket.

Remember, mine is a former daytime talk show producer's head (you seriously don't want to know what's in there).  I imagined illegitimate children, all sorts of illegal activity and maybe some sort of addiction, to mention just a few.

Like I said. Almost traumatized.

My hands shaking, I opened the envelope and there it was...

The recipe for Fine's Potato Salad.

I burst out laughing and couldn't stop. And every time I thought of it on the plane I would laughcry,  right from my heart.

In that one single action,  Dr. B showed me the character of the man I married. Not only are there no deep dark secrets, he thought up something both silly and meaningful to make me laugh on what he knew was going to be a really bad day.

I think of this story now every time Fine makes potato salad.

Recently Fine and I made it together so I had the opportunity to observe first hand many little details that were left out on that piece of paper he handed me almost four years ago.

I've documented it step by step.  Please excuse the quality of the photos.  It was dark and rainy out and there is low lighting at her place.


  • 3+1/2 pounds of speisekartoffeln. These are small, oval, slightly spicy flavored, yellow fleshed potatoes.*
  • 2+1/2 tablespoons salt
  • 3 Eggs room temperature
  • 1/2 small onion (about the size of an egg) finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup chopped sweet pickles that have been marinated in dill vinegar
  • 1/4 cup pickle juice from above
  • 4 tablespoons mayo
  • 1+1/2 teaspoons vinegar
  • 150 grams yogurt
  • 1+ 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 pinches of sugar

*Fine says to make the potatoes the day before and festkoch them which means to cook them until they are soft but still firm, not mushy.


Fill sink with water and put potatoes in.  Let them soak for about 10 minutes.

Scrub the potatoes to get the dirt off of them.  We get our potatoes from our farmer neighbor.  So they are right out of the ground dirty.

When the potatoes are clean, put them in a large sauce pan, cover with water.

Add two and a half tablespoons of salt and boil them.

While potatoes are heating up, cut up your onion.  You will need about this much:

Chop the onion very fine:

When the water is hot but not boiling, put the eggs in with the potatoes and cook them for about 10 minutes.

When the water comes to a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are soft but not mushy. Drain the water, transfer them to a bowl and put them someplace to cool completely.

Take out the eggs, peel them, put them in a slicer and cut:

Then turn the other way and cut again.

Or just finely chop the boiled eggs up with a knife.

Put eggs in a bowl and add the chopped onions mayo and oil. The Calve mayo on the right is from Holland and the one we use most at home.  It's delish to me.  I know people are picky about their mayo.  Just for the record, I am a Hellman's, not Miracle Whip kinda girl. And I love the Calve.

Add the yogurt.

And add the cut up pickles.  Each pickle slice below should be cut into about 8 pieces.

Then add a 1/4 cup of the juice from the pickles through a strainer.

Add the vinegar, pepper and two pinches of sugar.

Mix everything up thoroughly:

Taste and then, if you want, you can add a bit more sugar and vinegar until you have the balance of sweet and sour that is right for you. Let the sauce sit while you peel the cooled potatoes:

Cut the peeled potatoes into thin small slices:

Then add the pre made sauce and toss. Let sit for at least one hour in the fridge before eating.

Then try to stop eating it...

Unbelievable yumtastic.


  1. This story made me cry and the recipe looks and sounds fabulous. Absolutely amazing. You are one lucky woman, Lora!

  2. J ~ D ~ and Z here...Auntie Lora's crew from California who visited Auntie Lora and the whole family in Germany 2 summers ago. This isn't just potato is the best stuff ever! Kids don't always like what grown-ups do. That is a fact. The big bowl of Potato salad that Oma Fine (Grandma Fine) made for us 2 years ago disappeared within 5 minutes. You guys are lucky grown-ups for Auntie Lora to share this BIG SECRET recipe with you. Good Luck HIDING it in the fridge for the 1 hour before you let everyone get a will NEVER happen. Signing off..."3 kidds with spoons" J ~ D ~ and Z too!

  3. Love your photos...I assume this is Fine's hands cutting and preparing...what a timeless thing to remember someone's hands preparing a beloved meal. Beautiful story, beautiful memories.

  4. You are a lady after my heart Lora... ad what a wonderful man you married! LOVED the way you wrote this, and I had my heart in my mouth, followed by a lump in my throat! This is a potato salad worth the fight ... fabulous!

  5. Great blog!!! I'm your newest follower.

  6. Potato salad might be my most favorite all-time food...if it's done right. This looks incredible, can't wait to try it :)

  7. Great memory to have everytime you have that salad. Thanks for sharing both the story and the recipe.


Thank you for your comments and feedback. I love hearing from you!