Mom’s Macaroni & Potato Salads

bowl of macaroni salad

[Note from Serene: In this guest post, Carin shares some of her Mom Foods with us. I hope you’ll be inspired to do the same. To find out more about contributing to the Mom Food Project, see the Contribute page.  It was really fun to share the cooking and reminiscing with her.  Especially fun was comparing our mothers’ canonical summer salads, which were completely different from each other, but evoked many of the same emotions. Carin’s mom was well-loved by us all, and I wish she were still here to see how much joy this simple dish has brought her family, even now.  Rest in Peace, Trish.]

both salads

When I was growing up, summer meant Mom’s macaroni and potato salads.  One or the other (and sometimes both!) made an appearance at every barbecue, picnic, and potluck.  I am forever spoiled for 90% of store-bought versions, because they all taste of vinegar, which, to my mind, has no place in a proper mac or potato salad.

I mention them together here because they are virtually identical save for the obvious main ingredients:

1 lb. salad or elbow macaroni


2 lbs. russet potatoes

For macaroni salad, cook the macaroni according to package directions, then drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside. For potato salad, boil the potatoes whole in their jackets until soft (a knife should pierce all the way through fairly easily; 20-30 minutes), then drain them and set them aside until they’re cool enough to handle, but not cold.

There’s a trick to peeling cooked potatoes.  With the potato in your off hand, hold a paring knife as if you were going to slice into the potato, but, instead, scrape toward you against the skin until you scrape up a tab of skin.  Carefully use your thumb to hold the tab against the knife blade and pull a strip of skin off.  Repeat until the potato is naked. Cut the potatoes into roughly one-inch cubes.


Toss the macaroni or potatoes with the following, all chopped to about 1/2 inch or so:

5 or 6 hard-boiled eggs
1 bunch green onions (scallions), around 6 individual onions
3 ribs celery
2 medium carrots
3 dill pickle spears
5 or 6 radishes

If memory serves me correctly, Mom’s macaroni salad also had:

1 small can (4 ounces) sliced black olives, drained

but I don’t think they went into her potato salad.


Finally, dress the salad with:

1 1/4 cups mayo
5 teaspoons prepared (yellow) mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Mix everything together well, so that all the bits are coated with the dressing, which gets a very pale yellow hue from the mustard and egg yolks.

bowl of macaroni salad

The first small dish of salad, yet unchilled, right from the mixing bowl, was always a special treat.  Each bite brought a different flavor; the sweet crunch of carrot, the tang of pickle, the spicy bite of radish.  By the time the salad was served up with the burgers and corn on the cob, the flavors had melded into a cool/sweet/rich/savoriness to which the grocery store delis have never even come close.

Mmmmm, macaroni salad and potato salad.  It must be summer!

the salads

About the guest blogger: Carin is the Mad Craftwoman, the craftiest person I know, and a member of my family.  She is always an enthusiastic contributor to my projects, and I’m grateful for that.

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8 thoughts on “Mom’s Macaroni & Potato Salads”

  1. Love all the great veggies in these salads!

    When we do potato salad, though, we use red potatoes and leave the skins on–makes it even more colorful and you get the benefit of the nutrients in the skin. Dicing them before boiling, too, means it only takes 10 minutes to cook instead of 20-30.

    1. No clue why Akismet thought this was spam; sorry about that!

      Have you tried purple-potato salad? They’re purple all the way through, so the salad looks awesome, especially if you put some slightly cooked carrots in there, too.

      (The nutrients are concentrated near the skin, but so are the toxins, so I always recommend that people do whatever they like best, since it’s a wash, nutritionally.)

    2. I was telling Serene, as we were shopping for the ingredients, that I usually use red or yellow potatoes myself, and leave the skins on. I’m just lazy that way. :) But Mom always used whatever was cheapest (we were dirt poor) which was russets, and their skins don’t have a good texture for a salad.

      1. I can relate to the whatever’s cheapest idea–we were in the same boat growing up. In fact, since we didn’t have a/c Mom didn’t cook much at all in the summer (in the winter it at least served a dual purpose in warming up the place :) Our potato salad was almost always purchased.

  2. the potato salad looks yummy
    I stopped eating macaroni salad when my son stopped eating gluten but that looks good too… I need to try this recipe though and see how it goes over with the family

      1. You can find rice-flour pasta in some areas–there’s a brand I’ve bought before (out of curiosity, I’m thankfully not gluten-intolerant!) called Notta Pasta which was pretty good.

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