Monday, August 27, 2012

Labor Day Past and Present

We all celebrate the day – always on the first Monday in September -  in some form or another, but do we really know its origins? Its history?

Working conditions in the mid to late 1800s were deplorable – and dangerous. Multitudes worked 12-hour days, 7 days a week. Children as young as 5 or 6 worked in mills and factories in very unsafe working conditions. People just did whatever they had to do to make even a minimal living for their families, and many died doing so.

On September 5, 1882 there was a huge march in New York City in which thousands of workers took unpaid time off to march for labor reforms. This was technically the first Labor Day parade. The idea of a “workingmen’s holiday” took hold and grew to other areas of the country, and over several years many states passed legislation to recognize the day.

Congress legalized Labor Day 12 years later on May 11, 1894, after a brief period of strikes and labor unrest in the railroad industry. The identity of the actual founder of Labor Day is unclear.

Across the United States, Labor Day is celebrated with parades, speeches, fireworks, barbecues and celebrations in groups both large and small. To many, the day also symbolizes the end of summer and the beginning of fall.

As we all plan our activities for Labor Day, we should give thanks for all those laborers before us who paved the way for fair working conditions.

Our family will be having a picnic here, and I’m just beginning to think about what food to prepare. That’s always a bit difficult since there are people who like different foods and others who have certain dietary requirements. Pleasing everyone all the time would mean cooking a huge amount of food!

I do plan to make potato salad, though – the kind my mother always made. The kind my kids and husband love. There isn’t a specific written recipe but I’ll try to write it as concisely as possible. I usually make enough to fill a 5-quart ice cream tub!


Boil some peeled, cubed potatoes until fork-tender (Mom always boiled them with the skins on, then peeled them after they cooled). Drain and cool. Place in a large bowl.

Boil 3 or 4 eggs, then cool and peel. Separate the whites and yolks. Chop the whites and place in the bowl with the potatoes. Place the yolks in a small bowl and mash with a fork.

Chop onion, celery, green bell peppers and dill pickles. Shred carrots. Place in the bowl with potatoes.

For dressing, in the bowl with egg yolks, stir mayonnaise, yellow mustard and a little dill pickle juice. Add salt and pepper to taste. I usually stir in a little chopped parsley and celery seed. Pour over the potatoes and vegetables and mix well.

I know this isn't so much a recipe as a method, but it's pretty easy to follow. And the creamy, "mustardy" flavor, along with the crunch of the vegetables, is hard to beat!

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday and a great week to follow! As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome. Thanks for reading.

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