Tomorrow we will celebrate 5 spring/early summer birthdays on my husband’s side of the family–cousins who share the months of May and June as their birth months. We have a lot of birthday celebrations on my husband’s side of the family because there are a lot of nieces and nephews–16 in all. Plus, we have 3 more wonderful nieces on my side.

My contribution to the food of the day will be potato salad, which will provide sustenance for the stomach as well as for the soul. But not just any potato salad. No, I will be making the King of all potato salads, or rather the Queen, because the woman who made it famous (in the way that family recipes are famous) was royalty in her own way.

My mother-in-law perfected the art of making potato salad, although I believe it was originally her sister’s recipe–not sure how far back it goes before then. Potato salad is kind of an old-fashioned picnic dish, at least made the way this particular one is made–heavy on the mayo and with lots of sugar not to mention the starch-laden potatoes themselves. And while it’s both unhealthy and delicious neither of those facts play into the final reason why this dish will be part of the celebration.

My mother-in-law is no longer with us. We’re approaching three years without her presence at these family gatherings. Of course we all miss her every day. By making her potato salad and sharing it at one of the many family events she loved so much, we are setting a place for her at the table even though she would be among us anyway, potato salad or not. But it’s comforting to have a reminder that traditions exist for many reasons, including keeping memories alive.

Unfortunately, it is not my recipe to share. It is a secret like many of the best family recipes. Its wonderful in that there are really no specific measurements–my favorite way to cook. I remember when she gave me the recipe, she simply told me, and I wrote it down as best I could. I wish now that I had the recipe preserved in her handwriting.

The part of the recipe that always makes me laugh is the part that says to use the “juice from one onion.” What? How, exactly, does one get juice from an onion? Well, apparently she had a special device that my father-in-law brought back from one of his Navy trips abroad that did, in fact, extract the juice from an onion. I don’t have one of those. So I do the best I can. Just like we all do the best we can without having her among us and bringing that potato salad–onion juice and all–to the table herself.

But either way, it will be on the table because of her.