I don’t have a German bone in my body. However, that’s not true for half of my family—that sturdy, handsome stock that surfaced on my husband’s side. Along with large feet, they acquired from their line a taste for vinegary foods, meats simmered in beer, and pastries. Perhaps not inexplicably, the Swedes from their maternal grandmother’s side also slipped in the love of the pickled herring my husband sneaks into the kitchen.
With so many Missourians with German heritage, I am surprised there isn’t a more overt autumnal call for warm German potato salad this time of year. Even in Pittsburg, Kansas, where I grew up, we showcased our affinity for vinegary potato salad by nestling it next to the fried chicken and spaghetti that are standard side dishes at our favorite restaurants there. All you need to do to see settlement story sometimes is take a look at your plate.
The tangy German potato salad I remember carries a slightly oniony taste, notes of sweetness, and is unexpectedly light and flavorful. It was made with a light vegetable oil, did not have bacon and was served at room temperature. But at the church picnics in Mary’s Home, Missouri, with all the Furstenaus, we were treated to the warm kind with bacon. German people, it seems, have an appreciation for the different types of potatoes and how best to use them: low starch, waxy potatoes hold their shape when boiled, and their high moisture content means a creamy texture and better flavor unlike their thick-jacketed cousins used for bakers. Claiming the best German potato salad could well provoke debate but I’ve noted the warm bacon variety below for these cool days.
Hot German Potato Salad
2 pounds potatoes
1/2 pound thick-cut bacon
1/2 cup minced onion
1/3 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons minced chives, for garnish
Place the potatoes in a medium-size pot, cover them with water and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Continue cooking until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and slice into 1/4-inch rounds.
While the potatoes boil, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once crisp, place on a paper towel and crumble into small pieces. Pour off the rendered fat, reserving 2 tablespoons in the pan. Turn the heat to medium and add the onion. Cook until just beginning to brown, about 4 to 5 minutes.
With the burner still on, whisk in the vinegar, sugar, mustard, and salt and stir until thick and bubbly. Add the sliced, cooked potatoes and toss to coat. Top with the crumbled bacon and garnish with the chives. Serve warm.
Nina Furstenau teaches food writing in the Science and Agricultural Journalism program at the University of Missouri. She is the author of “Savor Missouri, River Hill Country Food and Wine” and “Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland.”