Aunt Sue's Macaroni Salad
A World Famous Salad? Well, probably not but maybe it should be.
There were never any paparazzi lurking in the bushes but Aunt Sue still referred to her signature BBQ dish as her “World Famous Macaroni Salad”. As a kid gullible enough to believe a nocturnal fairy was periodically buying my discarded teeth, I took her at her word. After all, even if she was possibly exaggerating, it was a damned good salad.
Her macaroni salad was more than delicious. It stood out from the blandness of the other offerings that would surround it on the buffet table. It was alive with colors and textures that made you go back for more. In many regards, the World Famous Salad was much like summer itself.
Summer is a magical time for a kid. It is a season experienced in technicolor, allowing endless possibilities for adventure in those three months of freedom from school. Schedules and the usual routines were on hiatus. Food was special too.
During the warm months, we ate our weight in watermelon and frozen popsicles daily. Ice cream trucks delivered our favorite treat to our street. Many of our meals were eaten outside and cooked on a grill. And, thanks to Aunt Sue’s World Famous Macaroni Salad, (which was copied by the other moms with varying degrees of success) the children consumed vegetables without any of the usual requisite bargaining. All of this was diametrically different from our standard fare during the year.
I grew up in America during the 70s and 80s, which was a strange time for food. Rising inflation and a growing list of moms entering the workforce led to a plethora of cheap, newfangled convenience foods.
We were the Hamburger Helper generation. The most gourmet recipes of the day were found on the back of a box or can. Every mom on the block made tuna casserole and that bean dish that involves a can of condensed soup. Vegetables were purely an afterthought, boiled to unrecognizable, diluted hues.
Nutritionally questionable foods were having a Golden Age that coincided with the one happening on television. In the dark era before cable, there were only about four or five channels (on an actual dial that had to be turned manually). This meant that everyone watching TV was watching the same four or five shows.
Kraft and the other Big Ag conglomerates took advantage of this marketing window with a barrage of commercials that ran simultaneously on every available channel. The fast-food restaurant chains that were popping up all over the US joined in as well.
Advertising was every bit as entertaining as the shows we were watching, with high production values and catchy jingles. Anyone who watched television was being indoctrinated to believe that food needed to be fun, fast, and come with toys.
Don’t get me wrong, this was a bonanza for children of the 70s and 80s. Cereals had real prizes in every box. Stovetop popcorn meant the excitement of the ever-popular volcano science project could be recreated at whim. Our parents thought that as long as we ate breakfast we’d do well in school, even if it was a Pop-Tart or chocolate spread on Wonder Bread. Puddings were instant and lunches came in mugs.
Then, my Aunt Sue showed up to one of our many summer gatherings with that big bowl of ‘World Famous Macaroni Salad’. It was as if a bright portal had opened up in the food universe.
The vegetables in her "Macaroni salad'' were fresh and colorful. They were raw and had a bite to them, as opposed to the mushy version we were used to. I'd never had peas that weren't cooked before! Even the sauce, that thick and creamy sauce, had healthy ingredients snuck into it.
On a table where the only criteria for a dish to be called a salad was a large dollop of mayonnaise, her's stood out. It had crunch, it had layers of flavor, and it had a great pasta-to-vegetable ratio. (In those days anything that wasn't spaghetti was 'macaroni'.)
Her salad was in great demand, not just by the children. Over cans of Schlitz malt beverage, the dads would joke about the 'hippie salad' they couldn't get enough of. Aunt Sue started bringing bigger and bigger bowls. Everyone wanted the recipe. She was very blasé about it, except for the sauce.
"Just add what you have on hand," she'd say.
She didn't seem to understand how few actual vegetables were found in the average avocado-green accented kitchen back then.
Things started to change for my family, and definitely for me, as I got older. My relationship with plants in my food had begun.
I still miss getting small gifts in my breakfast foods and I still eat foods from a box and a can. But these days extra add-ons can change them into something creative and, possibly, fame-inducing.
My Aunt Sue's Macaroni Salad may not have been 'World Famous' but it was life-changing.
This is my best version of her signature dish:
World Famous Pasta Salad Ala Aunt Sue
(the vegetable components can vary to suit your tastes or to what you find in your refrigerator)
8 ounces of pasta cooked al dente (I prefer spirals to grab sauce better)
2 medium carrots, shredded
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
12 oz package for frozen peas
1/2 cup sliced black olives
3/4 cup of chopped assorted sweet peppers (the more colorful, the better)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 head of cauliflower
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup vegetable broth
1/2 tsp of sweet mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1/8 teaspoon marjoram
Preheat oven 425 degrees. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add pasta and cook according to package directions.
Cut cauliflower into small pieces, add to a bag with olive oil and garlic, and shake to coat. Then, arrange cauliflower on a baking sheet and roast in oven for about 25 minutes.
When cauliflower is done, add to a blender with the rest of the sauce ingredients and blend until smooth.
Combine sauce with the rest of the ingredients and chill for at least one hour before serving.
About the Creator
I'm a soon-to-be retired paramedic in NYC. I'm also a crazy cat/bird/etc lady who writes stories. Thank you for reading!
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
Original narrative & well developed characters
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Macaroni Salad is so good. I used to always make it for one of my clients!!!
I loved your story! As a fellow 70s and 80s child (I grew up in Connecticut, USA), it was extremely relatable. I could taste the salad and I feel the marked difference between Aunt Sue’s Salad and the other food at the picnic. Aunt Sue’s was sooo refreshing!!! Keep writing, Nancy! 😊
Really enjoyed this; reminiscent of my own family gatherings!