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Speck's Potato Salad Recipe

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Speck's Potato Salad Recipe

Speck's Potato Salad Recipe
© Denzil Green

This famous recipe for a warm potato salad hails from Speck's Coffeehouse on Market Street in St. Louis, Missouri.

It was preserved by food writer Clementine Paddleford, one of the very first writers for Gourmet Magazine.

Includes recipe and history.

Number of servings: 6

Estimated Prep Time: 15 minutes

Estimated Cooking Time: 45 minutes



Put whole, unpeeled potatoes in a pot of salted, cold water. Bring to a boil, then lower to simmer for about 25 minutes or until just tender.

Drain the potatoes, and let cool until comfortable to handle. While they are cooling, dice and chop the other ingredients as above.

Peel the potatoes, then slice into 1/4 to 1/3 inch (1/2 to 3/4 cm) thick rounds and put into a large bowl.

Cook bacon in a frying pan until just it is starting to crisp. Leave the bacon with its fat in the pan, adding the onion. Sauté for two minutes. Mix together the salt, sugar, and pepper, then stir into the bacon and onion to distribute evenly, then add the vinegar and water. Raise heat, bring to a boil, then lower to an energetic simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Pour the warm dressing straight from the pan over the potato pieces in the bowl. Add in parsley and celery seed, and toss carefully. Adjust seasoning as desired.

Serve warm. May be reheated in a microwave, or over a pan of steaming water. Not good cold or room temperature.

To make ahead, prepare the potatoes and dressing, but don't combine. When it's time to serve, warm the potatoes a bit in a microwave, then heat the dressing in a microwave, then combine.

"Speck's Potato Salad" recipe appeared in Clementine Paddleford's "America Eats" column in This Week Magazine on 2 January 1949. She wrote, "Found: the world's best potato salad, 20 cents a side portion on the Speck's menu -- that century-old coffeehouse on Market Street in St. Louis." [2] She republished the recipe in a 1963 newspaper column.

Speck's Confectionery was at 414 Market Street, St. Louis, Missouri [3], and according to Paddleford, was extant before 1849.

The restaurant would not divulge the recipe, but Paddleford had a St. Louis home economist, Thelma R. Lison, figure it out for her. "One of our favorite potato salads is from Speck's, once a German coffee house on Market Street in St. Louis but lost in the city's great fire in 1949 [ed: sic] [4]. Good cooks of the town all had their version of the Speck's Potato Salad specialty -- but always something was lacking. It took Thelma R. Lison, home economist for an advertising agency, to spy out its secret. Here is Thelma's recipe and the real McCoy, say those in the know." [5]

The 1963 version of the recipe that she published had the following changes in it (compared to the ingredients given above):
    • Bacon: 1/4 cup finely diced
    • Onion: 1/4 cup chopped
    • Celery Seed: reduced to 1/4 teaspoon
    • Flour: 1 tbsp added to the recipe, to be blended in with the sugar, salt and pepper.
    • Simmering time: increased to 10 minutes.

The recipe was picked up and published again in 1990 by Phillip Stephen Schulz in his book, "As American as Apple Pie." (Simon & Schuster)

In 1968, Cecily Brownstone, Associated Press Food Editor, offered a recipe entitled just "Hot Potato Salad." It was identical to Paddleford's 1963 version, except she had you bring the water to a boil and dissolve 1 beef bouillon cube in it. [6]

And by 1969, it was being made at a posh restaurant in New York called "Luchow's." The name of this version interestingly keeps Speck in the name, but in calling it "Speck Salat", implies the relationship between American bacon and German Speck (the prosciutto-like ham / bacon.) This version keeps the idea of meat stock being added, but uses egg yolk as a thickener instead of flour.

This version was record by the columnist Earl Wilson in February of 1969: "The late Dinty Moore astonished me years ago when he said he always put sugar in the hamburgers he served at his famous restaurant. Now I find that Luchow's, where so many of the Glamour Set meets, especially on Sunday night, has hot potato salad with bacon which is also sweetened with sugar - but only a teaspoon. In my new passion for All-American cooking, I've found this latter dish is something not known to everybody. So for all you amateur chefs who'd like to be as good a cook as my Beautiful Wife, here's Jan Mitchell's own recipe: SPECK SALAT (the German term) "1 pound potatoes, 6 slices bacon, diced; 1 medium-size onion, diced; 1/2 cup vinegar; 1/2 cup stock or bouillon; 1 teaspoon salt; 3/4 teaspoon pepper; 1 teaspoon sugar; 1 egg yolk, beaten. Scrub potatoes; rinse. Boil in jackets; let cool. Peel and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Cook bacon in hot pan until crisp. Add onion; stir and cook until transparent. Add vinegar, stock or bouillon and seasonings. Stir; let come to a boil. Stir in egg; remove from heat and pour over potatoes. Serves 2 to 4." [7]

[1] Nutrition info from: Chase, Jodi. "It's not Herman's, but it's just as good." Oakland, California: Oakland Tribune. 11 October 2005.
[2] Alexander, Kelly and Cynthia Harris. "Hometown Appetites." New York: Gotham Books. 2008. Page 129.
[3] The St. Louis Story: Library of American Lives, 1952 / by McCune Gill (Hopkinsville, KY: Historical Record Association, 1952)
[4] CooksInfo.com was unable to find any record of a great St. Louis fire in 1949. In its July 1966 Bulletin, WMT Radio, of Eastern Iowa, said that Speck's "closed a few years ago."
[5] Paddleford, Clementine. Any heritage recipes for potato salad? Herald-Tribune News Service. As printed in the Mason City Globe-Gazette, Iowa, 3 October 1963, page 24.
[6] "What's Cooking" column. Lawton, Oklahoma: Lawton Constitution. 3 May 1968.
[7] Wilson, Earl. Sugar Potato Salad, 'Burgers. In his "It happened Last Night Column." Printed in Winona Daily News: Winona, Minnesota. Tuesday, 4 February 1969. Page 4

Recipe notes

Per Serving: 259 Calories; 5g Fat; 8g Protein; 47g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 884mg Sodium. [1]

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