Monday, June 4, 2012



So yummy.  Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.  This is a salad for those special times.

Leon's Potato Salad was a Michigan tradition for our family from the 1960's to the 1990's.    The salad was made in the state capitol of Michigan, Lansing.  It was an unusual salad potato as it was very creamy, a little sweet, with a celery back-note flavor to the dressing.  I served Leon's salad at Matt and Cindy's wedding reception.  It was the only thing not homemade.  It was a favorite of Matt's.

In the 1960's, there were many neighborhood corner markets or butcher shops on the Westside of Grand Rapids.  Within two blocks of my childhood home there were four markets.  My Mom, who was very picky where she shopped, would not shop at Henry's the closest market a block away.  Mom shopped at Johnny's Market, two blocks away, and so the rest of the family shopped there too.

Johnny's was a butcher shop where they made Polish sausage and other sausages fresh every week.  Johnny carried a full line of beef, pork, and veal.  If you wanted a certain roast of a certain weight, Johnny would go into his room-sized cooler, grab a quarter of a beef carcass or pork, and cut you exactly what you wanted.  The walls in the store had shelves, floor to ceiling, carrying what at that time were the necessities of life.  There were not a zillion kinds of canned soups and the little freezer held a few frozen vegetables boxes, pints of ice cream, and treats on a stick for the kids. 

You didn't just go to Johnny's to shop.  You also went to talk.  He loved a good joke and plenty of politically incorrect Polack, Johnny, and Hollander, me, jokes were exchanged.  The talking was so important because one of the first times I bought Leon's Potato Salad, Johnny told me it was so good as they used whipping cream for the dressing.  My quest to duplicate the recipe would have taken much longer if I hadn't known that fact.  It is the whipping cream that adds a special sweetness to the salad.  

On and off over years I have been trying to make the salad like I remember it.  I could never get the correct sweetness.  Adding sugar to mayonnaise just didn't cut it.  I come from a family of mayonnaise eaters.  My Mom and Cousin, Margaret, wouldn't eat anything that wasn't prepared with Hellman's Mayonnaise.  Me, I am not that fussy.  I eat anything but turnips.  One day a light bulb went off in my head and, yes, it hurt.  A commercial establishment would not use mayonnaise as it is expensive.  The salad would have been made with salad dressing.  That simple fact solved my one of my sweetness problems. 

Replicating a commercial product can be difficult as food companies have access to flavoring oils and other ingredients not available in the retail market.  To get the celery back-note of flavor, I used ground celery seed as well as whole celery seeds.  Be careful of the ground celery seed as it is bitter and a little goes a long way. 

Food effects all of our senses.  We can feel it in our hands, hear it sizzle or crunch, taste it, smell it, and see it.  Because all our senses are involved, special foods make an indelible impression in mind.  The final time I experimented with this recipe, I knew it was as "right" as I could make because as I stir it together it smelled just like I remembered Leon's Salad smelling.  I think it tastes just right too.    

The celery, red pepper, parsley, and red onion were always chopped very fine in Leon's salad. 

I was so happy when I came up with this recipe and that I remembered to write down my notes as I worked.  No, "Oh I'll remember that."  Not.

2  to 3lbs.  new potatoes, waxy potatoes
¼ to 1/3 red onion, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
¼ to ½ red bell pepper, finely chopped or jar of pimentos, drained and chopped
¼ bunch of parsley, finely chopped

Ingredients in salad:  New potatoes, red bell pepper, red onion, and parsley.

1 c whipping cream, divided
½ c Miracle Whip
2 T sugar
2 t cider vinegar
Scant ½ t onion powder
½ t salt
Scant ¼ t ground celery seed
¼ to ½ t whole celery seeds

Ingredients for dressing:  Whipping cream, salad dressing, apple cider vinegar, onion powder, celery seed, ground celery seed, and salt. 

To make the dressing:  Reserve 1/3 cup of the whipping cream and set it aside.  In a bowl, combine the whipping cream with the salad dressing.  Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well.  Chill for a couple of hours or more to allow flavors to meld. 

Set aside 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup whipping cream.  Mix together the remaining whipping cream and salad dressing.

Mix other ingredients into the whipping cream mixture.

Chill dressing for at least two hours to let flavors meld.

To make the salad:    Put the potatoes in a pan and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until fork tender.  Drain well.  Do not over cook.  Let cool until you can handle the potatoes to peel them.  Peel the potatoes and cube them into small pieces.  Pour ¼ cup to 1/3 cup of whipping cream over potatoes and mix well. Add the red onion, celery, red bell pepper and parsley.  Pour prepared and chilled dressing over the potato mixture.  Mix gently to combine all the ingredients.  Chill overnight.

Wash the potatoes.

Put potatoes into a pan and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until just fork tender.  Do not overcook. 

Drain well.

Cool potatoes until you can handle them to peel them.  Cut into small cubes.

Measure between 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup whipping cream.
Pour whipping cream over cubed potatoes

Carefully mix potatoes and cream together.

Add finely chopped parsley and add to potato mixture.

Finely chop red onion.

Add onion to potato mixture.

Finely chop red bell pepper.

Add to potato mixture.

Finely chop celery.

Add to potato mixture.

Carefully mix all the ingredients together.

Add the dressing.

Carefully mix dressing into potato mixture.  Chill overnight.

Serve chilled.

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!!!


  1. I'm going to try it, thanks!

  2. I hope you enjoy the salad. I really worked hard and long to get the flavor just right.

  3. GR Westsider (French, German, Dutch - Polack ;)
    Thanks much for your recipe, can't wait to try - been trying to duplicate Leon's for years, used to buy it at the deli at 'Great Day'... So sad when it disapeared. In fact, have a jar of pimentos waiting in my cupboard for the next attempt...

  4. Let me know if you think it is the Leon's you remember. Since it disappeared from the market, I had to use my memory for what I thought was it's taste.

  5. I, too, adored Leon's potato salad. My family lived in the Holmes & Waverly area back in the 60's and on into the early 80's. There was a small grocery where I got great meat bargains in a tiny strip mall area at Holmes & Pleasant Grove Roads. I often treated myself to a bit of Leon's potato salad when I shopped there. After moving out of state, I would carry a cooler on trips home so we could stop on our way back home and buy about 10 pounds of LPS to orgy on for a week. OMG, I can almost taste it as I write! But I note this recipe has no eggs in it. Were there no eggs in Leon's?

    1. From the research on Leon's Company, I found that they made two different potato salads. One of the salads had eggs and one did not. Johnny's Market carried the one without eggs. I am sure you can add hard-cooked eggs with no problems. So hope you enjoy the recipe.

  6. From the research on Leon's Company, I found that they made two different potato salads. One of the salads had eggs and one did not. Johnny's Market carried the one without eggs. I am sure you can add hard-cooked eggs with no problems. So hope you enjoy the recipe.

  7. Leon's potato salad and macaroni salad is still available in lower Michigan at Pollys Country Markets in Jackson and Chelsea.