I am an unreliable gardener. Sometimes I lavish my plants with all the love and water they deserve, while other times I ignore and neglect them horribly. I like the idea of a garden, but somehow lack the day-to-dayness necessary to have anything that approaches magnificent. It’s one of those ugly truths you have to sometimes acknowledge about yourself. The conundrum is I love having plants and flowers around, and I have a pretty green thumb – I just need the kind of plants that can take care of themselves. My mom tries to let me off the hook by saying that I’ll have time for gardening when the kids are grown. Perhaps. We’ll see.
I have several plants that thankfully fall into the category of no maintenance. A flamboyant hot pink tree peony which came from my Grammy Thompson’s house on Grand Street in Croton. Some scented geraniums my Mom gave me, which I love dearly since they are the first things up in the spring and the last to go each fall. Hostas, bleeding hearts, and ferns also fall onto my delightful list of “Don’t worry about us, we’ll take care of ourselves” plants.
In my garden beds the list of no-to-low maintenance edibles include garlic, rhubarb, and chives. Chives grow like weeds, which is a good thing since we love to put them in everything. Russell mixes chives into cream cheese to smear on his bagels, Isabelle sprinkle them on top of her scrambled eggs, I stir them into soups and put a generous handful into my Grammy Caldwell’s Potato Salad.
Grammy Caldwell always had chives in her garden. Even when she moved out of her house on Strathmore Drive and into an apartment, there would be pots of the tall, slender herb growing along her terrace. Chives are one of the essential ingredients for her potato salad. As a result they were one of the first plants I bought for our garden and every spring they are there to greet me. This year I even dug up a bunch to give away, they’ve become so abundant.
One of the quirks I remember about Grammy and her signature potato salad was she would scoop out a serving for my brother Jay and set it aside before she added the chopped hard-boiled eggs. I’m not sure why she did this since she rarely catered to people’s eating whims. Grammy turned my cousin Steve’s refusal to eat green peas into a family joke. Grammy had taken Steve (and probably his siblings) out to eat at Edward’s Tea Room. When they were served their food my cousin flatly refused to eat any of his peas. Grammy (who was a big believer in trying things) asked little Stevie what he didn’t like about green peas. He replied, “Well Gram, I don’t like the insides and I don’t like the outsides.” She laughed every time she retold the story, yet she didn’t not serve green peas to the rest of us just because Steve thought they were icky. Somehow though there was always one portion of potato salad without eggs.
I’ve modified her classic potato salad a bit. I use a different mayonnaise, despite Grammy’s insistence that Helman’s was the best. I don’t bother peeling the potatoes, but otherwise I do as she taught me. I boil the potatoes whole and then cut them into bite size chunks, usually singeing my fingers as I do so. I dribble the cider vinegar over them while they are still hot so they can soak it in better. And I always add a generous amount of chives.
Grammy Caldwell’s Potato Salad
4 pounds potatoes – I use small red ones, but any boiling potato would do
2-3 Tablespoons cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons dijon mustard
1/2 – 3/4 cup mayonnaise, or to taste
3 ribs celery, chopped
4 hard-boiled eggs*, peeled and chopped
salt to taste
1/3-1/2 cup minced chives
Boil the potatoes until you can pierce them with a knife. Drain and cut into bite size pieces. If you want to be like Grammy you can also peel them. Drizzle the cider vinegar over them and toss, I also add the mustard at this point. Let them cool before mixing in the mayonnaise, celery, hard-boiled eggs, salt and chives. Mix together and either serve immediately or refrigerate.
*I use the Julia Child method of hard boiling eggs. Cold water to cover, bring to a boil, turn off for 17 minutes, rinse in ice water for 2 minutes, back to boiling water for 30 seconds, cool again and peel.