Navigating the Impossibly Huge Catalog of Authenticity

Story and Photography by Lindsay Sterling

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Friederike Munz, a 27-year-old German, was going to teach me how to make German potato salad the way she’d learned from her grandmother on a farm in Freiburg, Germany. Friederike’s schedule was tight, so we only had 45 minutes to cook. I was to bring the ingredients and get the potatoes boiling, and then she’d swoop in and show me the magic.

She’d given me the recipe beforehand, and explained that they usually serve potato salad warm with grilled or boiled German sausage, green salad, and maybe a slice of bread on the side (no hot dog buns). I wanted to surprise Friederike by bringing reasonably authentic sausages to our cooking session, but neither of us knew of a German butcher in Maine, and my schedule was tight, too. So there I was facing mission impossible. Location: The hot dog case at the closest supermarket. Task: which sausages were “most German?”

Kielbasa? Definitely Polish. Salami? Probably Italian. Chorizo? I’d say Spanish. Franks...Franks looked like hot dogs but sounded like they might have originated in Frankfurt, a city I believed was in Germany. I held in my hand, my only shot: a package that read, “Dietz & Watson, New York Brand Beef Franks, made in Pennsylvania.” It said “German” nowhere. I was going on a verbal word-origin hunch on "Franks." It was like guessing on an SAT test. Too bad real life is usually “none of the above.”

Then I had a little daydream: wouldn’t it be great if there were a giant catalog of authenticity? I could just ask it, “Where do I get authentic German sausages around here?” And a starred map and directions would float into my brain. (I’m sure Google is already working on this.) –Oh, and could I also have a time warp so I could actually go get them?

Next, I faced the typical American supermarket Potato Island. “Ye Great Catalog of Authenticity,” I offered, “which of these potatoes are best for making German potato salad?” Friederike had described her grandmother on the farm, pulling up little yellow potatoes. The littlest, yellowest ones before me were printed with stickers that read, “yellow-gold,” which is marketing speak for generic. Is the word supermarket supposed to be sarcastic? Super.

Turns out – you will not believe this – Friederike lit up when she saw the sausages I brought. “Those are German!" She said. "They’re pretty good. They’re the expensive ones.” Sure enough, they were $6.59/pound. The company website confirmed Dietz & Watson was founded in 1936 by a German sausage maker, Gottlieb Dietz, and still uses “unique, old-world family recipes,” hand-trimmed beef and pork without pureed mysterious poultry parts, and no artificial ingredients, or MSG.

The generic potatoes she wasn’t as happy with. They didn’t hold together well. Damn generics! To find the best Maine-grown potato equivalent I could, I dug out my trusty Maine Potato Catalogue at home. For the first time ever, I actually decoded the potato characteristics chart that had always daunted me. According to waxiness and firmness levels (it sounds like a potato salon up there!), here’s what I recommend for the most authentic German Potato Salad Possible in Maine. Plant Yukon Gold seed potatoes (order from www.woodprairie.com), parsley, chives, and onion in your garden. Harvest potatoes when small. Then make Friederike’s recipe.