By Nancy Pollard
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes Kitchen Detail, a blog about food in all its aspects—recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food-related issues.
Travel Perils and Rewards
My mother was a fervent believer in the inevitability of airplane crashes — to such a degree that when my parents went on vacations to Europe, my father took a plane and my mother reserved a very nice stateroom on a ship. Her belief prevailed when I went to study German in a Goethe Institut program. I was deposited in a windowless cabin (some might have called it steerage) that slept four people on a Holland America Line passenger ship, the SS Rotterdam. One of the few pleasures I remember was the food served in a crowded but formal dining room. One evening the waiter served our first course, which was a salad of hard-boiled eggs garnished with a white sauce. I pushed it around my plate and then tasted it. It was delicious. I asked the waiter, who was trained not to appear too friendly to passengers, what it was. “That, Modom, is mayonnaise,” was his response. There were some notable outcomes to that period. I surprisingly aced the final oral and written exams in German; my mother finally joined my father on transcontinental flights after her ship had a terrible accident in the Bremerhaven harbor, and I learned how to make mayonnaise after researching several mayo recipes.
North and South
I occasionally read in social and traditional media about the competition between Hellmann’s and Duke’s. Since I am not a fan of either, I was curious about the perceived differences. To start with, one is from the North and the other from the South. One is the brainchild of a man, the other of a woman. Actually, their histories and the ongoing rivalry between their respective fans are rather sweet.
Richard Hellmann, a Prussian immigrant, landed in New York City at the beginning of the 20th century and married into a delicatessen-owning family. He soon opened his own deli on Columbus Avenue, where he developed his mayonnaise to be given out to clients. It became so popular that he tinkered with the recipe so that it would be less perishable. And then he sold it in bulk to other stores. The bulk sales were so profitable that with the sale of his delicatessen, he could afford to build a small factory, and the consumer-size bottle of Richard Hellmann’s Blue Ribbon (his marketing design) Mayonnaise was born. The bottles were reusable, and a purchaser could get an additional gasket for a penny. Hellman tried to market other products, but nothing had the staying power of his mayonnaise. He dropped all other products and focused on expanding its sales. In the ensuing years, a California brand of mayonnaise, Best Foods, become a competitor. Its parent company, Postum Foods, bought Richard Hellmann’s company when he wanted to retire. Today, the same mayonnaise is marketed under the Best Foods brand west of the Rocky Mountains, and virtually the same recipe is marketed under the Hellmann’s name east of the Rockies. Today, after being part of several acquisitions, the two brands are owned by Unilever. Tasters quibble over the differences between the two—there is supposedly a bit more vinegar in the Best Foods version. Both labels list a combination of primarily soybean oil, water, whole eggs, vinegar, salt, sugar, lemon juice, with scorbic acid, and assorted “natural flavors.”
Duke’s Mayonnaise was born in Greenville, South Carolina, over a century ago. Its success is even more remarkable in that it was driven by a woman at a time and place when a female-run enterprise was almost unheard of. Eugenia Duke started by selling sandwiches to soldiers stationed nearby. She distributed her sandwiches (pimento cheese, chicken, or egg salad), which were spread with lots of her homemade mayonnaise, near a military camp. The soldiers bought thousands of them. After the end of World War I, she began distributing sandwiches through drugstores, and she even maintained a tearoom in a prominent Greenville hotel. Assessing the ever-growing number of queries about the spread that made her sandwiches such a financial success, Eugenia’s top salesman encouraged her to focus on the spread instead of the sandwiches. She did and sold her sandwich business, which still operates in Greenville today. Duke’s homegrown mayonnaise continued to amass huge sales, and Eugenia was advised by the same salesman to sell her mayonnaise enterprise to C. F. Sauer, a larger corporation that produced spices. Eugenia became the spokeswoman for the mayonnaise, and C.F. Sauer promoted it successfully in grocery stores throughout the US, but primarily in the South. Even when she “retired” to California to be with her daughter, the ever-resourceful Eugenia Duke opened a new sandwich business called the Duchess Sandwich Company, successfully selling sandwiches to drugstores and cafes. Duke’s mayonnaise has additional egg yolks in its whole-egg formula, and no sugar (actually a necessity when it was made on a larger scale amid sugar rationing) and a bit of paprika with the vinegar base. One of the classic mayo recipes.
A Family Feud
I think my older daughter, who went to school briefly in North Carolina, like her father preferred Duke’s, but as Hellmann’s was the favorite of both her grandmothers, we had both jars in the house. Daughter and Dad even had taste tests (if one could call them that) involving peanut butter, mayonnaise, and banana sandwiches. I had to leave the room when this bit of family bonding took place. (It should be noted that geography is not destiny. The father has grown to prefer Hellmann’s on his world-famous BLTs.) Me, if I want mayonnaise, I make my own, and take solace that there exists a society for the preservation of Oeufs Mayonnaise in France, l’Association pour la Sauvegarde de l’Oeuf Mayonnaise, or l’ASOM. If there is an annual competition for the best Oeufs Mayonnaise, there has to be some hope for the world. The 2019 winner was the Paris bistro Bouillon Pigalle, and they charge only €2.40 for it. Stateside, you can make your own prize-winning Oeufs Mayonnaise with one of the recipes below.
I think David Tanis says it best in his book Market Cooking. “Why would you not make your own mayonnaise? It’s completely baffling to me since it is so easy to make and so divine.” I basically use the procedure he outlines. I use grapeseed oil or sunflower-seed oil and will add some olive oil or nut oil, depending on what the mayonnaise is being served with. I do it by hand in a bowl with a whisk, or sometimes in a mortar and pestle, particularly if it has some added tuna or roasted peppers. Doing it in a blender or food processor actually takes more time, if you consider the setup and cleanup afterward. This is truly one of the best mayo recipes to try.
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) Dijon mustard
- 2 cups oil (473ml) (Tanis uses all olive oil; I use mostly grapeseed or sunflower-seed oil with some olive or nut oil for additional flavor, and I frequently use less than two cups)
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper (I prefer white pepper: It’s milder and looks better in the emulsion)
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice, red or white vinegar, plus more to taste, if necessary
- Put the yolks and mustard in a medium-size metal, glass, or ceramic bowl.
- Whisk the yolks until they thicken slightly.
- While whisking, add some oil in a drizzle, whisking in a circular motion.
- As you see it thicken, continue to add the oil of your choice either by spoonsful or in a small drizzle.
- Taste and see what type of emulsion you want and season accordingly.
- At this point, add your lemon juice or vinegar to suit your taste. and whisk again. You may want to add a bit more oil of your choice.
- Your finished texture should be similar to that of softly whipped cream.
- This takes a few minutes by hand, but it can be done in a hand mixer, a stand mixer, a blender, or a food processor.
- It keeps about a week in the refrigerator, unless it is flavored with herbs or garlic, which lose their effect over time.
- I prefer Fallot Dijon mustard to other brands.
- I don’t use the mustard with seeds when I make mayonnaise.
As a final note, I feel I would be remiss if I did not share with you a mayonnaise I made from Jennifer McLagan’ s dear-to-my-heart cookbook Fat. Of all mayo recipes, this version is the soul sister to a BLT as it is made from room-temperature bacon grease instead of oil. This is one case where it is better to create your emulsion in a small blender or food processor (again, a small container) rather than do it by hand. You may not use all of the liquid bacon grease, depending on the size of the yolk. When the emulsion gets to the spreadable consistency and flavor you like, don’t add more grease. This mayo congeals in the refrigerator, so you have to bring it back to room temperature and remix a bit. Just have your sandwich fixin’s ready. McLagan suggests that it is good on any egg sandwich, grilled vegetables, cooked shrimp or lobster as well as potato salad. I have made it a few times, not just for BLTs but also for a very different Oeufs Mayonnaise. Maybe even prize-winning Oeufs!
- 1 egg yolk
- 3/4 teaspoon (3ml) Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup (125ml) liquid bacon grease
- A small amount of boiling water to thin mayonnaise if necessary
- Combine the egg yolk, mustard, and lemon juice in the small bowl of a food processor or in a blender.
- Process until thoroughly blended.
- With the machine running, add some of the bacon fat until the mixture starts to stiffen and emulsify. This should take about 2 minutes.
- Once the mixture starts to emulsify, you can add more of the fat until you get the texture and thickness you want.
- If the mayonnaise is too thick, blend in one teaspoon of boiling water.
- Taste and add salt and pepper to your taste.