Katie Maxwell, Visitor Services Coordinator
This spring, the Library Company of Philadelphia will run a food-centered seminar, Philadelphia at the Table: Treasures of The Larder Invaded with author and food historian Dr. William Woys Weaver. Be sure to join us as we tackle 19th-century menus, innovations in food and food advertising, the culinary offerings at the 1876 national centennial, and more. Stay tuned for delicious details.
As part of my preparation for this upcoming seminar, I am attempting to recreate a few dishes from our research. While studying 19th-century menus, I noticed many of them include potato salad, and I wondered if the 19th-century version might have anything in common with the modern mayonnaise-laden side dish. I found this recipe in the 1847 edition of The Caterer and Household Magazine by J.W. Parkinson, a well-known chef and restaurant owner. (Unfortunately, I forgot to note the page number.)
Here is the complete recipe:
Boil enough small potatoes in salt and water to make, when sliced, two quarts. Rub a bowl with garlic, put in potatoes, add half a pint finely chopped shallots or small onions, a tablespoonful of chopped parsley, a teaspoonful each of salt and white pepper. Potatoes must be hot. Mix a teacupful of chicken or meat broth, 4 tablespoonfuls each of olive oil and wine vinegar and toss up lightly with the potatoes, so as to break them as little as possible. Serve on leaves of lettuce.
Lets separate out those ingredients
Small potatoes, equaling two quarts when cooked and sliced
Half a pint finely chopped shallots or small onions
Teaspoon salt (plus extra for boiling water)
Teaspoon white pepper
Teacupful chicken or meat broth
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons wine vinegar
Lettuce leaves for serving
I have decided not to purchase lettuce just for decorative purposes. Also, exactly what is a teacupful? A cup? I’m going to use a cup.
Boil enough small potatoes in salt and water to make when sliced, two quarts
I’m not sure if I’m supposed to slice the potatoes before or after they’re boiled, so I’ve decided to make it easy on myself and slice them before boiling (after a good rinse).
Parkinson doesn’t specify exactly how much salt should go in the water, so I default to pasta rules, and salt generously.
While the potatoes cook, I finely chop my shallots and parsley.
As it turns out, two chopped shallots do not equal one cup, so I’ve added a little onion. I definitely have enough parsley though.
My potatoes are now fork tender, so while they strain in the sink, I
Rub a bowl with garlic
Put in potatoes, add half a pint finely chopped shallots or small onions, a tablespoonful of chopped parsley, a teaspoonful each of salt and white pepper.
Weird smell alert! As soon as I added the pepper, the mix gave off an odd smell. The best way I can describe it is “barnyardy.” Is that normal? I usually use black pepper and purchased white pepper just for this recipe. I guess all I can do now is carry on.
Potatoes must be hot.
Noted. They’re still steaming
Mix a teacupful of chicken or meat broth, 4 tablespoonfuls each of olive oil and wine vinegar
“Mix” might be a somewhat aspirational direction. As I suspected it might, the oil rose to the top of the liquid.
and toss up lightly with the potatoes, so as to break them as little as possible. Serve on leaves of lettuce.
Time to taste the final product. Fortunately, the liquid ingredients have reduced the smell, and it’s…not bad! The salad is seasoned nicely (no further suggestion of farm animals) though a bit liquidy at the bottom of the bowl. I now think that a teacupful of broth must be some measurement other than a cup. It could use a bit of a kick though, and a little horseradish is just the thing. As it turns out, you don’t need mayonnaise to make potato salad.