by Holly Lyn Walrath
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In July, I took a trip back to Maine, where I lived four years ago while my partner was in graduate school. Some friends of mine wanted to meet up and barbeque. “What can I bring?” I texted, knowing that my capacity to cook while traveling was limited.
“Tom has already requested your potato salad . . . ?” my friend replied in confusion.
I have to admit, I giggled out loud. I haven’t seen Tom in four years and yet he still remembers my potato salad.
Y’all, this salad is the stuff of legends. An orange, fluffy conglomeration of a southern classic taught to me by mother, inherited from mother before her, and probably on down the line of women in our family who dug up potatoes back in good old Munfordville, Kentucky. For years I’ve brought it to parties and barbeques. When my spouse’s grandfather died and we had to fly back home to Texas, I ate a version of it at his potluck funeral reception that made me weep from homesickness. It’s three parts mustard and a big ‘ol spoonful of Miracle Whip. Yes, this admission alone is probably a food faux pas. But the better secret?
Oh my sweet baby gherkins, how I love you. Little and dimpled green bits of glory, you mingle with the crunch of onion and provide that satisfying pickle snap and the necessary sweetness to rot out a tooth in a heartbeat. This is it, my ugly food confession: I love sweet pickles. When I was little, I’d stick my fingers in the jar and pull them out to eat them over the counter or stick them on a plate with some carrot sticks and ranch dressing. There were no other kind of pickles in our house, so I marveled at people at the movie theater with their big, disgusting-smelling pickles. If someone sat down beside me with one of those honkers in their fist, I’d get up and move just to avoid the smell.
But sweet pickles are mouth-sized. They’re always crunchy, never soft. Apparently they come from England, but something about them just says American weirdness to me. They’re the perfect pickle. I’ve been known to pour their juice into just about anything—spaghetti, pasta, beans. They never seem to go bad, sitting in the fridge door, swimming in green dregs. Yes, I love sweet pickle relish too. It’s perfect on a hot summer day when you’re dressing a dog up that’s half-burnt from the grill. Just the right amount of mouth-puckering, lightly sweetened, barely sour wonder.
So there I found myself, boiling potatoes on a hot Maine day in a friend’s kitchen. And later at the party, everyone admitted the salad was pretty much amazing. “Even the kids like it,” my friend announced in astonishment, watching her baby swallow pockets of potato by the fistful.
If you wanna make a classic southern potato salad, you gotta have those sweet baby pickles. Nothing else will suffice.
Holly Lyn Walrath’s poetry and short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fireside Fiction, Luna Station Quarterly, Daily Science Fiction, and elsewhere. Her chapbook of words and images, Glimmerglass Girl, will be published by Finishing Line Press in 2018. She holds a B.A. in English from The University of Texas and a Master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Denver. She is a freelance editor and host of The Weird Circular, an e-newsletter for writers containing submission calls and writing prompts. You can find her canoeing the bayou in Seabrook, Texas, on Twitter @HollyLynWalrath, or at www.hlwalrath.com.