Growing up in a family with German ancestry on both sides, it should come as no surprise that potatoes and sauerkraut and any variety of sausage were common dishes at our table. But it wasn’t until about six years ago, while on vacation with my husband and two young daughters in the Black Hills of South Dakota, that I had my first experience with authentic German Potato Salad.
While my family was waiting our turn to board the 1880 Train, a vintage steam locomotive near Mt. Rushmore, it was recommended that we eat lunch at the Alpine Inn. Located just across the street from the train depot, we were seated at a sweet little table on the restaurant’s covered porch, giving our daughters a front row seat to all the locomotive action. As I perused a menu that included spaetzle, schnitzel, and loads of red cabbage, my eyes caught sight of the German potato salad that accompanied the smoked bratwurst. When the waitress explained this new-to-me rendition of potato salad, I knew I had to try it.
Bacon is one of the ingredients that I love best about this potato salad. And I’m not talking about wimpy little bacon bits here. I’m talking about thick-cut, smoky, wonderful bacon, chopped into random bite-size pieces.
The other aspects of this version of potato salad that I like so much are the vinegar dressing base (no mayo here) and the coarse mustard. I do like creamy dressings, but if you really want to make me happy, give me a fresh and tangy vinaigrette and I’m all yours.
The thing that makes this potato salad radically different from any that I had ever eaten before, is that it’s most often served warm. You’ll also see it served cold and at room temperature, whatever suits your fancy. But I highly recommend eating it warm.
The vinegar/mustard dressing is pungent and tangy, and soaks ever so lovingly into the chunks of warm potatoes. Cold, creamy, mayo-based potato salad definitely has its place at a hot summer day’s picnic. But this German potato salad goes just as well, and is especially wonderful as the warmer temperatures begin to decline. It’s comfort food, for sure.
The meal that I ordered at the Alpine Inn many years ago looked much like this one. The plate included a smoked bratwurst, sauerkraut, and a generous portion of warm German potato salad.
My dad talks about his grandmother’s homemade sauerkraut, which she fermented in a large crock in their basement on the farm. I can remember Mom canning her own, too. These days, I don’t hear of many people making their own sauerkraut, except for my cousin Greg. He posted about his sauerkraut-making adventure on Facebook and I asked for permission to share a few of his photos. Greg remembers his mom browning ribs with salt and pepper, and then throwing them in the pressure cooker with sauerkraut, filling the house with its tangy smell.
This time of year, there are many Oktoberfest celebrations to be found in our area of the Upper Midwest and around the world. Modeled after the original Munich event, these large populations of German immigrants celebrate their heritage with a wide variety of traditional German foods and Oktoberfest beer, complete with live music and dancing for entertainment. If you’ve never had a real German meal before, seek one of these celebrations out or look for a restaurant that specializes in German cuisine.
Or just create this meal at home! The German Potato Salad keeps very well in the refrigerator for a few days. All it needs is a gentle warming before setting it on the table.