Summer may not officially begin until the end of June, but I always think of Memorial Day weekend as the kickoff to this long-awaited season of cookouts, long weekends and as much grilling as I can fit in between rainstorms. But the real significance of this weekend is often overshadowed by this excitement.
I’ve heard stories about both of my grandfathers’ military service and seen photos of their stints in the Army and Air Force during the World War II era. My maternal grandfather, Sonny, saw action in Italy, while my paternal grandfather, Sidney, a pianist, was tasked with performing for his fellow Air Force corpsmen to keep up morale.
While my grandfathers, like so many men of their generation, were forced to enlist, my great-aunt Marcia Zwecher made the choice to do so. She joined the Women’s Army Corps in 1943 and spent two-and-a-half years handling assignments from drum corps to military police. She always spoke of this time in her life like she couldn’t believe she—a shy, reserved 20-something at the time—had the courage to enlist, but she also made clear that it was one of her proudest, most formative experiences. In the years before she died in 2012, she participated in the Natick Veterans Oral History Project and was even featured in a documentary about women in the military.
I always quietly revered Marcia and loved hearing her stories—both humorous and difficult—from her time in the military. Many of these stories were shared at our family cookouts during the summer. She’d regale us with humorous or difficult stories of her experience, pausing occasionally to take bites of her favorite dish: the briny, tangy, German-style potato salad she loved so much.
Since we never used a recipe for this dish and instead relied on Marcia’s approval to know we had made it to her liking, I asked my girlfriend for her family’s recipe—a relic that she guesses dates back to the 1920s. I’ll admit I was a bit hesitant at first (a beaten egg? a tablespoon of butter?), but the flavor won me over quickly. I know Marcia would approve too.
The Stoll Family Potato Salad
Courtesy of Nancy Shannon
You may also choose to mix in some chopped hard-boiled eggs and sour cream at the end of this recipe.
6 medium Red Bliss potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
¾ cup vinegar
¼ cup water
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon whole-grain mustard
1 beaten egg
1 tablespoon butter
2 stalks celery, chopped fine
1 medium onion, chopped fine
¼ cup dill pickles, chopped fine (or pickle relish)
1. Place potatoes in large saucepan with cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to boil and cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Drain potatoes and transfer to large bowl.
2. Combine vinegar, water and sugar in medium saucepan. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to low and slowly whisk in flour and salt. Add egg and mustard. Cook until mixture bubbles, then remove from heat. Stir in butter.
3. Add dressing to cooled potatoes. Stir in celery, onions and pickles. Serve.