I have two questions for you: What is your favorite summer food, and why is it Elsie’s Own Potato Salad from Cutsforth’s Market?
Nicknamed “Canby’s Matriarch,” Elsie Cutsforth was widely known for her business and civic leadership, generosity, community spirit, her avid support of the Canby Historical Society and, of course, her legendary potato salad.
The longtime owner and operator of Cutsforth’s Market with her husband, Glenn, and family, Elsie started the market’s deli at a time when they were not the ubiquitous feature of grocery stores and quick stops that they are today.
As Deli Manager Erica DiPari explained, Elsie adapted most of the deli’s recipes and methods from her own home kitchen — and that remains the case today.
“We’ve added some new recipes over the years, but pretty much 90% are the same,” DiPari told the Current. “They’re still Elsie’s original, from-scratch recipes. Nothing comes out of a box or a bag. That’s pretty neat for a deli nowadays.”
Elsie started making potato salad in bulk for the Macksburg and Canby rod and gun clubs back in the 1960s, and would also whip up large batches for baseball teams and catering events.
Elsie’s Own Potato Salad was added to the menu of Cutsforth’s Market deli in the ’90s and quickly became her most famous dish. People come from miles around for the signature side, DiPari said — especially in the summertime.
While the store regularly sells more than 100 pounds of the golden good stuff any day of the year, demand more than triples in the dog days of summer.
“July is our huge month for potato salad because of Independence Day,” DiPari said. “We sell 1,000 pounds just over those three days around the Fourth of July.”
To say the recipe is a closely guarded secret would be a major understatement. Elsie’s biography, A Life for Canby, published four years after her passing in 2003, concluded with a detailed list of her best and most beloved recipes, including ones used in the Cutsforth’s deli.
The entry under “Elsie’s Own Potato Salad,” however, reads as follows: “This recipe is the only one the family cannot give out. To try it, readers will have to visit Cutsforth’ s Thriftway Deli in Canby.”
Of course, potato salad is a relatively simple dish, and it doesn’t take a connoisseur or a genius to tell you most, if not all, of the principal ingredients in Elsie’s: hardboiled eggs, mayonnaise, mustard, apple cider vinegar, green onion and — I’m just guessing here, but possibly: potatoes.
But the exact proprietary blend of ingredients and spices is a mystery.
“There are a few people who have worked here over the years who could possibly have known it, but we keep it pretty close to the chest,” DiPari said.
The current keeper of the potato salad secret is Margarita Rodriguez, a 30-year employee who originally learned it from Elsie herself. Though the store may sell 1,000 pounds or more on a busy holiday weekend, the deli still makes it in small, 30-pound batches — just like Elsie did.
“It’s a very specific recipe with ingredients that we don’t alter,” DiPari explained. “It has to be exactly the right product and even the right brand or it changes the taste.”
Perish the thought! If the taste of Elsie’s potato salad ever changed, the community just might riot — as DiPari well knows, because she has seen folks get bent out of shape even when the recipe didn’t change.
“I remember when I first came on as manager here, and some people on Canby Now were saying I changed the recipe,” she recalled with a chuckle. “I was like, ‘Who changed the recipe?’ I had never even made it yet.”
Which just goes to show: In a small town, people care about the little things. And they especially care about their potato salad.
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