My Aunt Joanne was an excellent cook. But more importantly, she was a chemist. Though the daughter of Sicilian immigrants, she went to college and studied chemistry in the nineteen forties—almost unheard of! Living in a small town, the only ‘chemistry’ jobs were in the hospital laboratory. And though it was really my eighth grade science teacher who inspired my love of science and my subsequent career, it was Aunt Joanne who made it seem possible for a woman to work as a scientist. My only regret is that she wasn’t a physicist, because that was my true love, but I had no idea in 1976, how a woman could work as a physicist. Ah well, it all worked out anyway.
Aunt Joanne baked cookies, bread, made her own pasta and fabulous stuffed artichokes. Her meatballs were incredible; her breaded chicken and veal beyond compare. Her salad dressing was so good that she made a quart jar of it for our cousin Tom to take back with him when he visited from Penn State. And when summer came, she made a potato salad that was unlike any other and was forever after called ‘Aunt Joanne Potato Salad. It was also one of the two dishes in which our extended family sanctioned the use of oregano (the other was pizza).
It’s now July and the potatoes are ready to dig in Virginia. This brings to mind my potato experience during my first summer in Free Union. We had dutifully planted our crop on St. Patrick’s Day in March and marveled as they grew. The plants dropped dead the first week in July. I lamented to a neighbor:
“What could have happened? We kept the bugs off and mulched faithfully.”
He replied, “Time to dig ‘em.”
“No!” said I. “It’s not September yet.” (That’s when the potatoes are ready in Pennsylvania)
“Time to dig ‘em,” he said again.
So we did—and imagine, they were perfect! Combine these with your garden green beans and you’re in for a treat.
Aunt Joanne Potato Salad
- 4 lb potatoes
- 1 lb green beans
- ½ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- 2 tsp oregano (dried) or 6 tsp fresh oregano
Boil the potatoes whole in salted water, with the skin intact until just under done. This will vary according to the size of the potato. In truth, I always use my pressure cooker and they are done in about 10 minutes, but most people I know fear their pressure cooker. We’ll discuss this and provide counseling in a future column.
Allow the potatoes to cool until they can be peeled, and then cut into 1- to 2-inch cubes.
Boil the green beans in salted water until they are just tender. Drain. Aunt Joanne always left them whole.
In a small bowl, combine the oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and oregano. Put the potatoes and green beans into a serving bowl, add the dressing and stir gently. This will work best if the vegetables are still a bit warm. The potatoes will smush, but that’s part of the charm.
Serve at room temperature or chilled. Serves 8 – 10. Great for a picnic or cookout!