My mother-in-law’s tuna salad

My mother-in-law’s tuna salad


RM’s mother is lionized in his family for her tuna salad recipe.  Whenever we visit her home in Topeka over these many years, the meal on the first night of our stay was always tuna salad with a side of applesauce.  The meal is flawless for guests arriving from a long road trip, like the eight hours the drive takes for us from the Fort, because she could make it ahead, prepare the quantity needed for the number of her guests (it scales up and down easily), chill it in the refrigerator and then just wait for her guests to finally arrive.

This trip from the Fort to Topeka varies for us dependent on age of the travelers, construction, distractions, speed, start time, road conditions, amount of liquid consumed and other delays on the open road.  My mother-in-law never really knew when we would show up in her driveway but she was always ready with tuna salad.

The tuna salad works also for arriving road warriors because after being cramped in a car all day nobody is very hungry especially due to the quantity of sugary and salty car snacks purchased and consumed along the way and just general inertia.  A light protein salad just works for us Kansans born with mayonnaise in our veins.  Plus it is a tradition.  There is nothing spicy in this dish either so you don’t have to worry about acid reflux in the middle of the night just look out for the second-hand smoke from Grandpa’s cigar.

So on our recent return trip from Topeka after visiting Dave’s parents, RM was reminiscing about the tuna salad and he was missing it.  His parents have downsized now and are living in an apartment.  Dave’s mother doesn’t cook anymore. It’s been a while since he tasted her tuna salad.

So, today, as RM was feeling down from allergies and the last heat wave of 2017, I whipped us up a batch of tuna salad for lunch.  I even mixed and served it in the same metal bowl his Mom always used when preparing this salad.  Somehow that bowl makes it taste better.  I think it’s because it gets super cold in the refrigerator before serving.


So, here is the recipe so that it might live on in your family’s recipe box too.   If you don’t like tuna just substitute chicken, salmon or ham.


Sally’s Tuna Salad for 4

  • 1 can of top grade tuna drained and flaked — I use Merinos
  • Small 7 ounce package of pasta — I like the La Moderna small shell pasta boiled and drained
  • 1/2 red onion diced
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs diced
  • 1 rib of celery diced with the celery leaves
  • handful of basil and chives chopped – Sally used dried but I like fresh from the garden
  • 2 T brown mustard – Sally used yellow
  • 1/4 cup of Hellman’s mayonnaise or to taste
  • 2 T sweet relish
  • lots of salt and pepper – the right amount of salt makes the dish
  • a squeeze of lemon (this is my addition)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl,  mix by hand with spoon, taste for seasoning, and then chill it thoroughly  in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (the day before is better).

Serve with fresh tomatoes, apple sauce and crackers. Iced coffee compliments it well. Hope you like it as much as RM remembers.

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