Mom’s Classic Potato Salad

Hawaiian Luau

Yes, this is classic American  potato salad. Did you think my mom made nothing but Italian food? She made a pretty good pea soup as well which I will share in another blog.

Whenever my sister Annette would have one of her teen age parties my mother would make this potato salad, among other things. When Hawaii became a state in 1959 it was all the rage to have “Hawaiian Luau Parties”. In 1959 my sister was 18 years old. What an excuse for a party!

It was the event of the decade. In 1959 I was 5 years old and was smack in the middle of everything. The planning my mother and sister made for this party would make the Obama’s party planners look like amatures. My mother spared no expense.  Our entire basement was transformed into the House of Kamehameha. I was surprised they didn’t dress my father up in a grass skirt and send him to roast a pig in the back yard.

The house support poles that lined the length of our basement were turned into palm trees, complete with brown crepe paper wrapping the poles and green crepe paper cut outs forming the swaying palm leaves. My mother made a grass skirt hula girl on the wall behind the table of food, just in case you didn’t think you were on the island of  Maui.

When my sister’s friends arrived they were all greeted with authentic plastic Hawaiian Leis. My mother made her famous New Year’s Eve pink lemonade punch, minus the whiskey, and added pineapple . All the boys were wearing Hawaiian flowered shirts and the girls had exotic flowers in their hair. Elvis was singing Blue Hawaii on the Victrola and I thought I had actually made it to Disney Land.  The only thing missing were the Tiki birds. I’m not too sure of the entire menu, but I know my mother made her Hawaiian Ham with slices of pineapple pinned to the pig with toothpicks and dotted with cloves and brown sugar.

And then everyone played that traditional Hawaiian game called the “broom dance”. It’s not Hawaiian? Well, that’s what they told me. For those of you not old enough to know what the broom dance was, it went something like this. Everyone had a partner to dance with except one person, that was me. I danced with the broom. When the music stopped everyone changed partners, yes even me, I dropped the broom, and quickly got a new partner. The last one left without a partner had to dance with the broom. The music would start again and we repeated this ridiculous routine. For some reason, I danced with the broom more than anyone that night. But I was having a ball. Every once in a while I’d tag one of my sister’s girlfriends. I would grab onto one of them and not let go.  I thought once you grabbed one you had them, but a few got away. I’m sure they loved dancing with a chubby five year old. I might have fallen in love that night for the first time.

If only my cousin Concetta was there. She would have been the most authentic Hawaiian at the party. My Uncle Sal was stationed in Hawaii and my cousin grew up as a teenager there. She actually learned how to hula from a kumu hula. She had the entire traditional dress and learned all the complex hand motions that signified the aspects of nature, such as the basic Hula and Coconut Tree motions. She could tell stories of the islands with her hand and leg motions. It was actually quite impressive. I remember seeing home movies of her.

But, we had to settle for what we had…Don Ho and Tiny Bubbles. When the party was over my mother could not bring herself to tear down the crepe paper palm trees. So for years after the Hawaiian Luau we kept the support poles in the basement dressed as palm trees.  I wish we really had Tiki Birds. I didn’t get to Disney Land for another 10 years.

Mom’s Potato Salad

  • 5 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1 rib celery, diced
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, chopped
  • 2 heaping tablespoons sweet pickle relish, drained
  • 1/2 cup real mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • paprika
  • salt
  • 1/2 cup ripe olives

In a large mixing bowl combine onion, celery, chopped hard boiled eggs, sweet pickle relish, mayo, mustard, and sugar. Mix well to combine.

Boil cubed peeled potatoes till tender. Drain and allow to cool in colander.  Once cooled, slice the potatoes and add to the dressing in large bowl. Mix gently. Taste for salt.  Spoon into a serving bowl  or tray. Sprinkle top with paprika and decorate with black olives. Chill before serving.


About Peter Bocchieri

Peter was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY and is a second generation Italian-American. He has a degree in Journalism from Long Island University and is an avid photographer, gardener and pet owner. Now that Peter is retired, he is relaxing at his home in North East Pennsylvania and cooking for his sons, Michael and Joseph, family and friends. Peter's passion for food was inspired by his Mother's and Grandmother's cooking, but at the age of 10 Peter felt he could do it better himself, so he did.
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2 Responses to Mom’s Classic Potato Salad

  1. Rosemary Lynch says:

    Hi Pete,
    A little bit of critique……under categories, the word Dessert is spelled desert.
    Congrats on the recipes. I plan to download the roasted peppers and try them.
    Sounds great!
    Write a book…….go on Oprah!
    Magician in the Kitchen with Pete Bocchieri.
    Better yet……go on the food network!
    I’ll be your campaign manager.
    All the best, Ro

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