German Potato Salad
Updated: Oct 24, 2022
A warm, tangy dressing bathes tender pieces of potato for a favorite cookout side dish.
The Dutchtown neighborhood in south St. Louis City was my home for more than 30 years. We lived in a tidy three-bedroom bungalow next to a lady who emigrated from Germany. Mrs. Lohrman lived her life in browns: from her brownish brick home, to her brown floral print dresses and gray-brown bun on the top of her head. At Easter, she died white eggs using onion skins, creating light brown eggs that looked odd next to our rainbow eggs. For Christmas, Mrs. Lohrman created curious tan bar cookies sweetened with honey and dried fruit
My grandmother, Dorothy, and Mrs. Lohrman often visited across the chain-link fence, especially on wash days, when both women hung clothes in the fresh air to dry. They’d swap stories about their families and talk about recipes. I remember my grandmother’s indignation when Mrs. Lohrman told her some of the foods we ate—including potatoes—were fed to their animals in Germany.
In truth, when kartoffel (potatoes) first came to Germany, the root veggie was given to pigs and other livestock. By the 16th century, potatoes were eaten by German peasants or prisoners. It wasn’t until Frederick the Great in the mid-1700s ordered potatoes be widely cultivated due to failed wheat crops to feed his Prussian army, as well as his people.
Today, potatoes are a staple of a German’s diet. The average person in Germany eats about 60 kilograms (about 132 pounds) of potatoes each year. Some of those potatoes are used in salad for German cookouts. Certainly favorite potato dishes are served on National Potato Day (Aug. 19), which also is observed in the United States. Both countries also boast a potato museum; ours is in Idaho (of course), Germany’s is located in Munich.
The earliest recipe for American potato salad dates to the mid-19th century and involved cooked potatoes dressed with oil, vinegar, and herbs. Culinary historians think German immigrants, who lived the sour-sweet combination, influenced early potato salads. Mayonnaise didn’t show up in American potato salad until the early 20th century.
Naturally, in Germany, it’s simply called kartoffelsalat (potato salad). Actually, the bacon-vinegar dressing for potato salad is a Southern Germany thing; mayonnaise and chopped egg are seen in potato salads from the northern section of the country.
Both styles of potato salad were a part of our Dutchtown table, but when I taste the tangy Southern German-style salad, I’m transported to our neat, green backyard for a family cookout. In my mind’s eye, Dad is grilling bratwurst and this potato salad is among the side dishes that line our patio’s table.
This is comfort food for me; I don’t typically crave German potato salad, but when I eat it, the dish affects me in very good ways. Not only do I remember our family cookouts, but our entire Dutchtown neighborhood that included German butchers and bakers. Whenever I smell onions cooking in bacon fat, I salivate like Pavlov’s dog, because Mom and Grandma started practically every recipe with bacon and onion.
To make German Potato Salad, you’ll need both of those ingredients, plus:
6 cups cooked potatoes
2 tablespoons flour
½ cup celery
⅔ cup apple cider vinegar
1⅓ cups water
¼ cup sugar
Salt and pepper
Grandma always peeled potatoes and cubed them (rather than sliced). She often used white or red potatoes, but I used Yukon Gold in this recipe. Just look for waxy (thin skins) rather than starchy potatoes (like Russets) because they hold up better in the salad. Although Grandma Bubba mixed the crisp bacon into the salad, I like to serve it on top.
I usually cook the potatoes in salted water (much like pasta) until they just tender. While the potatoes cook, I fry the bacon and make the dressing in a large skillet. When the potatoes are finished, I remove them with a spider ladle and add them to the skillet to coat. It’s nice to finish off with fresh parsley or dill.
Even Mrs. Lohrman couldn’t say no to this salad.