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You say potato, we say kartoffel

German or Amish, debate continues over the favorite summer sidekick

German or Amish, debate continues over the favorite summer sidekick

June 24, 2009|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

The Tri-State area is known for its Pennsylvania Dutch influence. German immigrants settled in nearby Pennsylvania and in Washington County, Md., and brought with them one of their lasting influences: food.

Here in the Tri-State area, there are two basic types of potato salad: German potato salad and Amish-Mennonite potato salad, sometimes simply called Amish potato salad.

It can be confusing. The Amish and Mennonites derived from the German region. So is there a difference? For those who grew up eating it, there certainly is.

German potato salad

Annemarie Collins of Martinsburg, W.Va., has fond memories of growing up in Rangendingen, Germany, and making potato salad with her mother.

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"My mother made me help her," Collins said, her words still clipped in a German accent. "We had to be useful when we were young."

The potato salad she would make with her mother is known here in America as German potato salad.

Collins said there are actually two kinds of German potato salad she grew up with - a cold version and a hot version. She said the hot potato salad, which also includes fried bacon, is usually served while warm.

The German potato salad she grew up with was the cold version, which is from the Northeastern region of Germany.

"It has chopped onion, pickles and a lot of mayonnaise and sliced, cooked eggs," she said.

Both versions have a nip of vinegar to them.

But ask Dieter Blosel, executive chef of Schmankerl Stube Bavarian Restaurant in Hagerstown, to explain the difference between German and Amish potato salads, and he'll laugh.

The reason he's so tickled is because, for him, it's not that simple.

"You can go to any region of Germany and you're going to find a different version of the potato salad," Blosel said.

Blosel grew up near Nuremberg, Germany, and completed his apprenticeship in Lake Constance, Germany, which is on the southern border of Germany, near Switzerland and Austria.

Regional differences

Blosel said when it comes to potato salad, regional specialties have developed. One region's version uses mayonnaise, another omits it, while other area might add cucumbers and bell peppers. Some versions include beef or chicken broth. Some dressings are cooked or served hot, others are served cold.

The version Blosel serves at the restaurant has bacon, mayonnaise, mustard, onion, beef broth, salt and vinegar. He serves his version cold and does not cook the dressing. His secret is a dash of nutmeg.

This regionalism can make it difficult for people who like a specific type of German potato salad to find it outside the area.

"We often have that problem with customers who come here and ask for German potato salad," Blosel said. "What happens is that they'll say 'That's not like the potato salad I had in Germany.' The reason is because it's from a different region."

Collins said potato salad was "really made out of necessity," when family and friends came to visit.

Typically, at gatherings, a large, nearly overflowing serving bowl is part of the feast. Often, her version is decorated on the top with wedges of hard-boiled egg and parsley, and it was usually served with a good bratwurst.

Collins, 64, came to the United States when she was 21. And living here, she has tasted what is often referred to as Amish potato salad.

Although the Amish potato salad that is frequently seen in the Pennsylvania Dutch areas derives slightly from Germany, Collins prefers the original version from the Old Country.

"I think Amish potato salad is a little mushy," Collins said, noting she misses the chopped pickle.

Blosel, on the other hand, has never even tasted the Amish version.

Amish-Mennonite potato salad

But Lynn Riehl, who practices the Mennonite faith, from which the Amish faith derived, prefers the Amish potato salad.

Riehl, who owns Country Hill Deli at the Pennsylvania Dutch Market in Long Meadow Shopping Center, sells a version of the Amish potato salad she grew up with.

"It's a family recipe," she said, noting she won't share it.

Riehl said growing up, the version she sells at the deli was often served up at home.

She too has tried a version or two of German potato salad, but said she doesn't like the vinegary kick. Her version does include some vinegar, but not much. Instead, she likes the Amish potato salad because it has a creamier flavor.

Her version of Amish potato salad includes hard-boiled eggs, sugar, a little bit of vinegar and spices - celery, celery seeds, mustard, salt and pepper.

And it's a popular item in the deli case. Riehl said the ladies of her deli will often make six 35-gallon tubs of potato salad to have enough for customers at the Thursday-through-Saturday market.

"But sometimes we might have to make more for Saturday," she said.

Because potato salad is so versatile, Riehl has added to the deli case a loaded potato salad, which includes cheese, red skin potatoes and bacon, and a Philly potato salad, which also includes a little parsley.

Riehl said, for her, potato salad is good for any meal.

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