The Flat Possum Gazette
Courtesy of the Road-Kill Press
Paragould Potato Salad
I used to have a cousin in Paragould named Mary Alice. Her family owned the picture shows in town; two, until the drive-in came then it was three. I was a regular at the picture show in the 1930's and '40's. Especially during the war when I went to see the newsreels of all the battles. Anyhow, Mary Alice manned the ticket seller booth most every night and on Saturday afternoons when the cowboy shows and serials were on. She also was the C.E.O. of the popcorn machine, which was only a couple steps from her booth. She could watch everything that happened at the popcorn machine, no matter who was working it. My favorite was to get a sack of hardtacks. They had a shaker under the pile of popcorn and the hardtacks would fall through into a container. I could get a whole popcorn sack of hardtacks for free, and they were most always hot. Mary Alice saw to it. We were related, but I never did figure exactly how. It was on my Dad's side. She was married several times, and I never could remember what her last name was. Her three boys were about my age, and they had last names different from hers, and from each other. Anyhow, I never knew any of her husbands, and most of the time I knew her, she didn't have any husband around.
But, Mary Alice was a great bartender. She used to come over to Dad's house in the late afternoons, before going to work at the picture show, and fix him a bourbon and sweet soda with a squirt of lemon. She knew all the gossip, I mean everything. And she was prone to share whatever news she had, without holding back. So, by sundown, Dad knew everything that was worth knowing in Paragould, and had put away a couple bourbons and sweet soda. It was hardly worth his while to subscribe to the newspaper: "The Paragould Daily Press", or if you wanted your news in a weekly dose, "The Paragould Weekly Soliphone". (Published by the same guy, who was in the Klan, but when he died he funded a large library for the town.) But Dad subscribed anyway, so he could read the classifieds. (By the way, I never heard of another paper named "Soliphone", in or out of Arkansas.)
In addition to Mary Alice's talents tending bar, she was a great cook. She would usually bring Dad some goodie she had made up and he would eat it for supper, and probably, if there was any left, he'd have it for breakfast too, along with his cup of coffee that he always put three heaping teaspoons of sugar in. It was kind of a slurry when he got through stirring. I think he could roll that coffee into a sweet, squishy ball with his tongue before swallowing.
Mary Alice gave me two recipes when I visited Paragould one time. She typed them up and everything on 3"x5" ruled cards: Potato Salad and Chess Pie.
I have made each of them a number of times in the years since. In fact, my
Mary tried her hand at the Chess Pie today and incinerated two of them. (She
snoozed while they baked.)
Mary Alice died about fifteen years ago. She was a good friend, and one of the few relatives I gave a damn about. Dad sure hated to see her go, he was in his late 90's by that time and couldn't see well. You can imagine, because of his defective eyesight he was a very sloppy bartender, and he used a fruit juice glass for a jigger because he could hit it better, pouring whisky, than a real jigger. As a result, usually he did not have to make more than one drink and he was out for the night.
The Flat Possum Test Kitchen has researched the Paragould Potato Salad to
death, and has added a few minor ingredients:
PARAGOULD POTATO SALAD FROM MARY ALICE
About 4 Lbs. Red Potatoes (they must be red potatoes)
2 stalks Celery, chopped
1 large green bell Pepper, chopped into 1/2" chunks
1/2 to 1 medium onion (I use red onions), chopped
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped
1 large jar chopped pimentoes
Salt (kosher salt), and don't overdo it
Hellman's Mayonnaise (or Best Foods Mayo, if you are east of the Mississippi River) Don't, whatever you do, try to make this using "Miracle Whip" or anything approaching it. Use Hellman's Toasted Sesame Seeds, to taste, (optional)
Lawry's Seasoned Salt, to taste
Cayenne Pepper, to taste
Black, fresh ground Pepper, to taste
Boil potatoes with the jackets on.
When cool, cube them into a bowl, adding some salt as you go.
Add all the other stuff, and use just enough Hellman's Mayonnaise to coat everything well.
This Potato Salad is best if put up in the ice box for a day or so to blend.
Sometimes, before serving
I have put it in a strainer and let it drain a few minutes. This dries it up a
bit because I don't like liquid, emitted from potato salad, flowing around on my
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