How to Cook : Mayonnaise

(alternately titled, “Reasons my mother thinks I may have been an alien baby”)

(subtitled “wherein I use a lot of italicized comments in parentheses”)

Me: I made mayonnaise today!

My Mom: Why?

Conversations like these are not altogether rare around these parts. I do something retro-domestic (yes, I made up that term and considered copyrighting it until a subsequent Google search told me I’m not the first one to make it up), and she wonders where on earth (or outerspace) I came from.

Blame it on Melissa Gilbert. I was obsessed with the TV show of “Little House on the Prairie”. And then, for my 4th birthday, my Aunt Betty & Uncle Mike gave me the first book in the series Little House in the Big Woods. Well buy me a bonnet and call me Katy! Some kids want to run away and join the circus, I wanted to run away and join the Amish.

(Funny side-story here. I was an early reader. Except my mom didn’t know it until I got that book. She was reading it to me and, as she puts it, there’s a lot of words and not many pictures so she figured she could paraphrase a little. As a mom myself now, I know that this really means she had a 4-year-old and a newborn and she was sick-and-tired of reading the damn book already.

Anyway, she’s paraphrasing along when I stop her and say, “You didn’t read that word.” She looks at me – probably with the same bewildered expression she had when I informed her I made mayonnaise – and asks, “What word?” I reply, “Indian. You didn’t say the word Indian.” What did I tell you? Alien baby.)

The answer to her question (which, again, was “Why?” in case you got sidetracked up there), is that I’m cheap. Have you seen how much a jar of mayonnaise costs in the store? And if it goes on sale, the shelf is completely empty by the time I get there. And then there’s the alien list of ingredients. I know Ma Ingalls did not put that stuff in her mayonnaise (although, honestly, I don’t recall Ma Ingalls making mayonnaise in any of those books.) Considering the number of mayonnaise-based salads I make in the summer months, and the chickens making daily egg deliveries right to my door, I think the question should be, “Why not?!?” So let’s go!

You will not believe how simple making mayonaise really is. But the most important thing is the eggs you use. Mayonnaise is made with raw egg yolks, after all. So ideally you would use very fresh eggs from free-range hens. If you don’t or can’t have your own hens, find a trustyworthy local farmer to buy eggs from. In a pinch, organic cage-free eggs from a trustworthy company. Never would I make mayonnaise with eggs from hens raised in confinement with hundreds or thousands of other hens. Remember all of the egg recalls just last year? Doesn’t sound like things have gotten any better.

So now that you have some really good eggs in hand, all you need to go with them is oil (I bought a huge jug of canola oil for the price of 2 regular jars of mayonnaise! You can use whatever oil trips your trigger) and an acid – vinegar or lemon juice. A little salt and a blender and you’re all set.

Put 2 egg yolks, a pinch of salt and a tablespoon vinegar (or lemon juice) in the blender. Give it a quick spin to mix those together, then turn it on low and leave it run while you very very slowly drizzle in 3/4 cup of oil. I’m serious! Drizzle. very. slowly. If you enjoy science experiments you’ll enjoy this process! It’s fun to watch as the whole mess turns from liquid into a beautiful, creamy condiment. And it really only takes about 5 minutes. It just seems longer because you’re drizzling. Very slowly. (If you really want the whole science-y explanation of why that happens, read the last paragraph on this website.)

A few notes… One, you can use additional seasonings if you wish, but it isn’t necessary. I like a little garlic powder, a little ground pepper, maybe a little paprika. Two, if you use fresh eggs from free-range hens, your mayonnaise will have a nice yellow color to it instead of that pasty white color of the storebought stuff. And three, obviously, keep your mayonnaise refrigerated. It will keep up to a week, so it’s best to make small, quick batches and use it right up.

And that’s all there is to it! So go! Get your Ma Ingalls on.

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