Welcome to Food Friday, when our Radio Reader Book Club members share recipes, memories, and mouthwatering tidbits. This is Valerie Brown-Kuchera, from Quinter, Kansas. My mom, Eleanor Augustine, is a potato salad evangelist with, as far as I know, a 100% conversion rate. Her latest convert is my husband, who insisted he hated potato salad, but now heaps his plate full at our family picnics.
My mom acquired her soul-saving recipe at the Lenora City Café, where she worked for six years in the late sixties and early seventies. She was just a kid at the time, and her pay was 50 cents an hour, plus tips. The café offered typical home-cooked meals, served on heavy white ironstone platters. The cook at the café, Florence Schrader, taught my mom how to mound a scoop of the salad on a lettuce leaf and serve it next to tangy BBQ beef sandwich. I’m happy to report that my mom also managed to get the recipe for the BBQ sauce, which, if you’re lucky, I may also share.
Florence, who was, in my mom’s eyes, already elderly in the late sixties, told my mom that the secret to her potato salad was in the pickle juice. Although Florence didn’t have a written recipe, she allowed my mom to watch and jot down things as she whipped up a huge bowl to serve all of the café’s patrons for the day. My mom, throughout the years, has managed to perfect a smaller batch recipe.
Mom’s favorite time at the Lenora City Café was harvest. Big crews of handsome young work hands would eat every evening meal at the café for a week at a time. The harvest team owner would run a tab for all the boys, and at the end of the week, he’d write two checks: one for the food, and another for the tip. The waitresses got to split the tip check, and my mom’s typical take was up to $15 for the week. This was a big bonus at a time when her usual tip was a nickel or a dime. After harvest, some of the big farmers might even leave a quarter, which gave mom quite a thrill.
Sundays were “steam table” days at the café. Florence and her waitresses would prepare mashed potatoes, fried chicken, green beans, and corn. The prepared food was kept in large pots, which were lowered into a huge trough of steaming hot water. When the after-church crowd arrived, the waitresses simply had to scoop the hot food onto the oval platters, add a fresh hot roll and a Jello square, and serve. A piece of chocolate cake and a cup of coffee finished the feast, and diners could get the “steam table” special for under a dollar!
I grew up eating my mom’s potato salad and BBQ beef sandwiches. Thank goodness she had the foresight to write down these recipes when she had the chance. Not many teen girls would think to keep those things. She did say that she regrets not getting Florence’s recipe for Swiss steak, as it was the best she’s ever tasted. So if anyone out there has the Lenora City Café’s recipe for Swiss steak, circa 1968 or so, please let me know on the Facebook page. You can find the recipe for the tangy BBQ Sauce and the City Café Potato Salad on the Facebook page as well.
I’m Valerie Brown-Kuchera for the Radio Readers’ Book Club. This is Food Friday! To find more about the Radio Readers’ Book Club, visit HPPR.org. Or “like” us on Facebook under HPPR Radio Readers.