There was once a town in North Texas known as Cathron’s Store. In the late 1800s, a grocery, a grist mill, and a post office could be found in this small Lamar County community, though by 1905 the name had changed to Tigertown and Cathron’s Store was no more. Most people, I reckon, have never heard of this place; it is forgotten. But because of a most unusual potato salad recipe by one of its residents, the town and its legacy continue.
Now, I realize that potato salad may seem an odd subject for contemplation, but Texan-style potato salad—which is typically yellow and tangy with mustard and often mashed to the point where you can’t tell where the potatoes end and the other ingredients begin—is not usually seen outside the state. It’s a unique dish.
Curious as to its beginnings, I began to do research and delved into a collection of recipes from the 1800s to see how it was made in the state’s early days. Most of the potato salad recipes followed a familiar fashion with hard-boiled eggs, pickles, and onions all bringing color and spark to the dish. Surprisingly, mustard was the preferred dressing even then, and while some recipes were prepared with cubed or sliced potatoes, mashed potatoes were used, too. The potato salad that Texans eat today has deep roots.
As I was reading, I came across a mashed potato salad by a Texan named Mrs. Lissa Gardner Bowman. She lived in Cathron’s Store. Her version started with leftover potatoes that she mashed and then mixed with the usual suspects. But just when things were becoming predictable, Mrs. Bowman encouraged the cook to go out into the garden and pick some nasturtiums for garnish. Not only was her hometown new to me, but also was her directive to add flowers to one’s potato salad.
Admittedly, I don’t cook with nasturtiums and I certainly don’t have a garden. But I had to try this unique combination so I headed over to the Union Square Greenmarket to see what I could find. My first stop was at the stand of Windfall Farms, a reliable source of squash blossoms, and to my delight they had a whole cooler full of the brightly colored nasturtium blooms. With a bit of a jig and much jubilation, I bought some flowers and rushed home to recreate the dish. A windfall indeed!
In my kitchen, I had the rest of the ingredients, which included cucumber pickles, diced onion, and hard-boiled eggs. (Pickled beets were also recommended, but I demurred as I’m not a fan). The original recipe’s dressing was only vinegar, but I augmented that with some melted butter and mustard, a popular combination found in most other Texas potato salad recipes from the late 1800s. Since I’d never tried nasturtiums before, I ate one and was surprised at its peppery bite. It was assertive and strong, a sharp edge to the plain potatoes, so I chopped a handful and mixed them into the salad, too.
After it all came together, I garnished the salad with more flowers. It was the prettiest potato salad I’d ever seen with a flavor both familiar and new. So, here’s to Cathron’s Store, Mrs. Bowman, and a delicious addition to my side dish repertoire. It’s a joy to have discovered all three.
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Texas potato salad with nasturtiums
- 3 pounds russet potatoes
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup yellow mustard
- 1/2 cup diced dill pickle
- ¼ cup finely diced red onion
- ¼ cup finely chopped flat parsley
- 3 hard boiled eggs, peeled and finely chopped
- 4-6 freshly picked nasturtium blossoms
- Black pepper
Peel the potatoes then cut into 2-inch pieces. Place the potatoes in a large pot, cover with cold water, bring to a boil on high, then turn the heat down to medium and cook until fork tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse and turn off the heat.
While still warm, return the potatoes to the pot and add the butter. Mash the potatoes with a masher, leaving a few lumps, then stir the warm potatoes with the butter until the butter is melted. Stir in the apple cider vinegar, mustard, dill pickle, onion, parsley, and eggs.
Leaving 2 nasturtium blossoms for garnish, finely chop the remaining blossoms then mix into the salad. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.
Chill for 4 hours. Garnish with the remaining whole blossoms before serving.