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  • Writer's pictureDominika

Cooking during lockdown - memories and cravings

Updated: Dec 27, 2022

“Santa Battaglia tasted a spoonful of the potato salad, cleaned the spoon with her tongue, and placed the spoon neatly on a paper napkin next to the plate of salad. Sucking some pieces of parsley and onion from between her teeth, she said to the picture of her mother on the mantelpiece, ‘They gonna love that. Nobody makes a good potatis salad like Santa.”

A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole

Twice a year, every year, during Christmas time and Easter, my mom would spend a few hours in the kitchen cooking potatoes, carrots, peas, eggs, and then chopping them into small pieces. She would also finely dice pickled cornichons (since the real Polish pickled gherkins were not available in Ecuador) and apples, but these had to be sour, not sweet. She would mix everything, add salt, pepper, mayonnaise and would always leave a handful of peas aside for decoration.

Since my mom has never liked mayonnaise, she would call my dad or me who, as the official tasters, had to give our approval to the seasoning of the whole thing. Only then, she would proceed to transfer the "Russian" salad - which in Polish has a more generic name of vegetable salad- into a special bowl of her polish tableware; always the same bowl. It was deep and decorated with autumnal motifs of dark and light brown leaves, and unlike other pieces of the service, it fared better and has survived intact to this day.

With the help of a spoon, she would form a salad duomo that rose above the top edge of the bowl, leaving the other half hidden inside it like an iceberg, and would spread an additional layer of mayonnaise to give it a smooth, bone-colored finish. With the leftover peas she would form an oculus at the top and a few ribs that went all the way down to the base of the cupola. A fresh green leaf of parsley would crown the vertex.

Once finished, the salad would have to remain in the refrigerator for a few hours (sometimes overnight) to let the flavors blend well. The bowl was large, so my dad, sister, and I would spend the next three days eating the vegetables – at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The space of months between one salad and the other was ideal and necessary to not make us sick of it and allow us to enjoy it to the fullest when that time of the year came again.

I liked and still like that salad so much that, in this period of lockdown and, having all the ingredients at home, I decided to replicate it. I have always wondered how my mom, who has never even tried a small bite of it, managed to make it taste so delicious, all ingredients in the right proportions and perfectly seasoned. Mine wasn´t bad at all, but it sure wasn´t my mom's. Maybe too many potatoes? Or too much of my homemade mayonnaise? But, I did manage to get one thing right: prepare so much of it that we had to eat it for days and days.

Read Recipe for the polish potato salad

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