When we moved into our house in August of 2018, we were the first people who were not the Smith family to live in it. Mrs. Smith (the Mrs is pronounced Mizz with the hard Z of a soft Texas twang) the previous owner was born in 1923 in the downstairs bedroom and only moved out to enter hospice a few weeks before her death. She was a fixture in our small Texas town. Whip-smart, proud, and filled with all the feistiness that would fit into her tiny frame, she was a fierce woman who seems to either have been loved or feared, with not much in between, but always treated with a great deal of respect. While I’ve seen her Christian name on her tombstone in the town cemetery, I’ve heard the people who knew her only refer to her as Mrs. Smith, and so therefore so will I.
Mrs. Smith was a championship gardener, and it would seem a very good cook. There is a marble slab set into my kitchen counter which was a gift from the local Baptist Church to the woman who made the bread for their communion services every week.
Now, next door to Mrs. Smith lived Mrs. Cook, Mrs. Smith’s nemesis. A “villain” in a housecoat and apron. These women were neighbors for more than fifty years, and their children were around the same ages, and that’s a lot of time for water to flow under the bridge. I don’t think the potato salad was the start of their feud, but I’ve heard tell that it was the spark that got it going hot.
The rumor is (and you can judge for yourself whether or not it’s true) that sometime in the 1960’s the Baptist Church, of which Mrs. Smith was a member, and the local Methodist Church, attended by Mrs. Cook, decided to combine their Fourth of July celebrations at the City Park with a pot luck supper.
Mrs. Smith brought potato salad.
So did Mrs. Cook.
Dueling dished being set upon the table was insult enough, but some words were exchanged that day about whose potatoes were better than the other’s, and it was more than Mrs. Smith was willing to bear. She came home and did what any sensible woman would do. She planted a wall of crepe myrtle bushes between the two houses so that she never had to lay eyes on Mrs. Cook’s ever house again.
Fifteen years ago Mrs. Cook passed on, and her house was sold to the Lane family who still live next door. During their settling in period, Mrs. Lane walked over to introduce herself to the now elderly Mrs. Smith who was out weeding the flower beds in her front yard. Mrs. Smith listened as she introduced herself, fixed her with a steady gaze, and crossing her arms across her bosom replied resolutely, “My name is Mrs. Smith, and if you touch my hedge, I will call the city on you.” She stared at Mrs. Lane a minute longer before turning and walking back into her house.
I’ve spent some time over the last few years looking for their competing recipes. I finally found Mrs. Cook’s in a cookbook put out by the Methodist women’s society in the 1970’s. It seems that Mrs. Smith’s recipe went with her to the grave.
Here is Mrs. Cook’s potato salad
- 4 cups peeled and cubed potatoes
- 3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
- 2 ribs of celery, sliced thin
- 1/4 cup of green onions, chopped
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise (she said Miracle Whip, but the real thing is better)
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp mustard
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- Place potatoes in pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Cook for 20-30 min until tender. Drain. Put in a bowl with eggs, celery, and onions. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, mix together the rest of the ingredients. Pour over potatoes and toss to coat.
- Refrigerate for at least one hour.
**When I’ve made this I added on depending on what I had on hand. We/ve liked it with bacon, purple onions, sweet pickles, dill pickles, and a variety of other things. Don’t be afraid to experiment. It’s a good basic recipe and stands up to some tomfoolery.
***We currently live in a 100-year-old home in a historic neighborhood. There are all kinds of stories floating around about the people who used to live here. I’ll be sharing a few of them with you during this quarantine.