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Grandma’s Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad Is The Perfect Picnic Side

by | Aug 5, 2021 | Recipes

This old fashioned macaroni salad was my Grandma’s go-to side dish any time there was going to be a picnic. Simple, but delicious, this creamy heirloom pasta salad uses just 5 ingredients—pasta, hard boiled eggs, dill pickles, black olives, and mayonnaise. It’s super easy to make and a sure-fire crowd pleaser!

overhead shot of grandma's picnic perfect old fashioned macaroni salad plated with potato chips and fried chicken

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Heirloom Recipes

Today, I’m sharing my Grandma’s picnic perfect old fashioned macaroni salad as I kick off a new series of content here on the blog—heirloom recipes.

I’ve always loved how food transcends cultural barriers and eras in time. Food is something that we will all always have in common. It’s a platform ripe with opportunity for new experiences in taste, texture, and smell that can help us create bonds with people half way around the world and connect us to our family, both those we know/knew and those we never got the chance to meet.

Looking through a couple of antique heirloom recipes boxes while I prepared to launch this site got me all in my feelings, for sure. But it was so interesting to see the original recipes that my Grandma and other family members had come up with during their time. What was equally interesting was to see the recipes that they took care to obtain from their friends as well as those that caught their eyes in magazines, digests, and promotional materials that were common place in their day.

I’ll be peppering the heirloom recipes of my family, their friends, and historical publications like old cookbooks passed down to me among my own original, approachable recipes that I’ve come to create over the years. I hope that you’ll find these heirloom recipes interesting and be tempted into making them along with me.

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INGREDIENTS    SWAPS    TIPS & TRICKS    HOW-TO    RECIPE

Grandma’s Picnic Perfect Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad

One of my favorite dishes that my Grandma made when I was growing up was her Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad. This simple pasta salad brings back a flood of good memories for me any time I eat it. I loved this creamy macaroni salad speckled with chopped dill pickles, hard boiled eggs, and black olives because it was delicious and made with love.

But, and perhaps more importantly, I also loved it because it was a signal that we were about to take a trip to the coast! My grandma had two big loves in her life…my grandpa and the ocean. Grandpa passed when I was just 9 months old, so I never really got to see her love of him…just hear it in stories. But boy oh boy did I get to see her love of the ocean!

We would take her for a trip to the coast pretty much every 2-3 weeks when I was a kid. Grandma absolutely adored the coast! We would be 30-45 minutes inland on our way there and she would roll down the window in the car, let out a sigh, and say “mmmm, do you smell that salt air yet, Krystal?” On nearly every coast trip, Grandma would pack us a picnic lunch of fried chicken and ham or turkey sandwiches, potato chips, sodas, and her picnic perfect old fashioned macaroni salad.

macro shot of grandma's old fashioned macaroni salad

Every Forkful is Packed with Flavor

Grandma liked to use small pasta shapes like elbows, shells, and ditalini for her old fashioned macaroni salad. It makes sense since everything else in the salad was in a small dice, except for the sliced olives. So, using a small pasta meant you get a little bit of everything in each forkful.

My Grandma didn’t like being watched when she was cooking in the kitchen, so it was a rare occasion when she would ask me to join in the culinary fun. Sadly, she passed away while I was still in college and I never got the chance to get her recipe. Grandma never taught me how to make her macaroni salad, but after eating it for years and years it was a taste I never forgot.

Recreating it turned out to be much more simple than I’d expected it would be. What makes this dairy based pasta salad so creamy and filled with dill-liciousness is that my Grandma would extend the mayonnaise by using some of the tangy brine from the pickle jar.

It was a trick she used that harkened back to the methods of resourcefulness that she undoubtedly learned as a child growing up during the Great Depression. By using the brine, she was able to thin the mayonnaise to a creamy, pourable consistency while also amping up the dill flavor for a one-two salty punch in your mouth that keeps you wanting more.

Gonna try out this recipe?

Leave a star rating or review in the comments to let me know what you think!

Ingredients to Make Grandma’s Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad Recipe

ingredients to make grandma's old fashioned macaroni salad
  • Elbow Pasta – The majority of the time, Grandma used elbow pasta. So, that’s what I always use by default. I always pick up a box of Barilla when it’s on sale.
  • Eggs – The yolks of the hard-boiled eggs break down into the mayonnaise as you stir and combine all of the ingredients, giving this salad a little color and a bit of richness.
  • Dill Pickles and Pickle Juice – These cucumbers brined in tangy goodness give the salad its refreshing crunch and a pop of zippy flavor that permeates every nook and cranny. Grandma always used Nalley’s Baby Dills. They’re hard to get where I live now, so I typically use Vlasic or Heinz instead.
  • Mayonnaise – The mayo is rich, creamy, and holds all of the other elements of this old fashioned macaroni salad together.
  • Black Olives – Sliced black olives bring an extra pop of sodium as well as more buttery, richness. They also look nice visually.
  • Kosher Salt – There’s already a lot of sodium inherent in this macaroni salad from the dill pickles and black olives. So, the salt in this recipe is used near the end of the cooking process to adjust for personal preference of saltiness.
  • Black Pepper – I can never taste the black pepper in this salad, but Grandma always threw in a dash here and there when she made it. So it goes in the mix. Just like with the salt, adjust to your personal liking just before serving.

Pin this recipe to make later!

recipe pin graphic for pinterest

Ingredient Swaps & Variations

  • Ditalini, Shells, or Rotini Pasta – My top three pasta swap suggestions would be ditalini (because it’s also a small pasta like elbows), small or medium sized shells (again because of their size), or rotini (because it’s a pasta that holds on to sauces/creams well).
  • Plain Greek Yogurt or Sour Cream – If you like tangy pasta salads, you can add a bit of zip and save on calories by swapping the mayonnaise out for plain greek yogurt or sour cream.
  • Sweet Pickles – Sweet pickles are sacrilege in this world and should be banished!! Just kidding. While I personally find sweet pickles to be disgusting, if they’re your jam then you should totally use them. After all, you’re the one who will be eating this macaroni salad, not me. And, if I’m being honest, my grandma was a lover of sweet pickles and would sometimes make this old fashioned macaroni salad with them. So if you use sweet pickles, she’ll probably be smiling at you from heaven.

Recipe Tips & Tricks

What to Remember – The pasta is going to soak up a lot of the mayo, so the macaroni salad will be very wet just after mixing all of the ingredients together. If your crowd loves an extra creamy pasta salad, then go ahead and serve immediately. But, if your peeps prefer an old fashioned macaroni salad that doesn’t feel like its swimming in dressing, then give the salad an hour or two in the fridge to let the flavors mingle and the pasta soak up some of the dressing.

What to Avoid – Don’t go overboard on the pickle juice. In the recipe, I call for 1-2 tablespoons of pickle juice. The pickle juice will thin out the mayo to make a dressing. Depending on the brand of mayonnaise you use, you may only need 1 tablespoon. Or, conversely, your brand may be extra thick and need the two tablespoons plus a third. The first time you’re making this old fashioned macaroni salad, start with just the 1 tablespoon of pickle juice. Then taste, and add in additional juice as needed to get a zippy dill flavor and dressing consistency that you enjoy.

close up of grandma's old fashioned macaroni salad

Recipe Notes

Storage – Store leftovers of this old fashioned macaroni salad in an airtight glass or plastic container in the fridge. It will last up to 7 days.

Servings & Nutrition – One serving of my Grandma’s Picnic Perfect Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad is 1 cup. This recipe makes about 6 servings. Each serving has approximately 262 calories, 9 g of carbohydrates, 4 g of protein, 24 g of fat, and 1 g of sugar. For the full recipe and additional nutritional information, please see the recipe card below.

How to Make Grandma’s Picnic Perfect Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad

Step 1. Add 4 cups of water to a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil. Add in the macaroni and boil for 6 minutes. Once cooked, strain the pasta and put into a medium mixing bowl.

Step 2. In another sauce pan, add 5-6 cups of water and gently add the eggs to the pan. Bring the water to a boil and boil for 10 minutes.

Step 3. Remove the pan from the heat; drain the hot water from the pan while running cool water from the faucet over the eggs. Fill the pan with cool water and let it sit until the eggs are cool (or place in a bowl of ice water for about 5 minutes).

macaroni salad ingredients in a mixing bowl

Step 4. Once the eggs are cool, peel off the shell and chop up the eggs. Add the chopped eggs, pickles, pickle juice, olives, and mayonnaise to the pasta in the mixing bowl.

Step 5. Stir to combine; the mixture will be very wet. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the old fashioned macaroni salad to a bowl with lid and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving (preferably overnight).

overhead shot of grandma's old fashioned macaroni salad plated with potato chips and fried chicken

If you make this recipe, tag me in your photos on Instagram—I love seeing what you guys decided to make!

Frequently Asked Questions

If I don’t like black olives, can I leave them out of this old fashioned macaroni salad?

Though I will be sad that you did, yes you can leave out the black olives if you wish. However, this will reduce the amount of sodium in the flavor profile so you may end up needing a bit more salt to even things out.

What can I use in place of mayonnaise for your grandma’s old fashioned macaroni salad?

You could try sour cream or plain greek yogurt. Each will give you a texture similar to mayonnaise in this dish. However, both of those substitutes will definitely give you more of a tanginess than mayonnaise. Because of this, I would caution against using them in place of the mayonnaise unless you like a little zip in your pasta salads.

How come your recipe doesn’t call for any mustard like I see in so many other old fashioned macaroni salad recipes?

Simply put, because my grandma never used it in her macaroni salad recipe when she made it for my Dad and me. While she never passed down to me a formal write up of her recipe, I watched her make this macaroni salad many many many times over the years that she helped raise me and never once saw a drop of mustard go into it. So, if you want to try my grandma’s version of old fashioned macaroni salad, forego the mustard just this once and see how you like it. Remember, if you don’t dig the way she made it, you can always mix some mustard in to make it more to your liking.

Other Recipes You May Enjoy

macro shot of grandma's old fashioned macaroni salad

Grandma's Picnic Perfect Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad

Yield: about 6 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes

Bite sized pasta, hard boiled eggs, salty black olives, and zippy dill pickles are tossed with creamy mayo in this simple heirloom recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup elbow pasta
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup chopped dill pickles
  • ¾ cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup sliced black olives
  • 1-2 tbsp pickle juice
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste

Instructions

1. Add 4 cups of water to a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil.

2. Add in the macaroni and boil for 6 minutes.

3. Strain the pasta and put into a medium mixing bowl.

4. Add 5-6 cups of water to a second sauce pan. Gently add the eggs to the pan.

5. Bring the water to a boil and boil for 10 minutes.

6. Remove the pan from the heat; drain the hot water from the pan while running cool water from the faucet over the eggs.

7. Fill the pan with cool water and let it sit until the eggs are cool (or place in a bowl of ice water for about 5 minutes). Once the eggs are cool, peel off the shell and chop up the eggs.

8. Add the chopped eggs, pickles, pickle juice, olives, and mayonnaise to the pasta in the mixing bowl. Stir to combine; the mixture will be very wet. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

9. Transfer macaroni salad to a bowl with lid and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving (preferably overnight).

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 262Total Fat: 24gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 19gCholesterol: 74mgSodium: 580mgCarbohydrates: 9gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 4g

This nutrition data is provided and calculated by Nutritionix. Please keep in mind that your specific nutritional values may vary based on the brand of ingredients you use to make this recipe.

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About photo

Hey there! I’m Krystal, the sassy-mouthed, self-taught, home cook behind the content here at Sweet, Savory & Sassy. I have a deep love for sharing food with people and showing folks just how easy it really is to make dishes that will bring a little extra joy to those you love. There’s nothing like making something special for friends and family and seeing their face light up in delight during that first bite!
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4 Comments

  1. Mike downing

    My wife use to make this, she passed away on xmas eve 2020.
    I have been wanting this alot, I have gone three her recipes and it’s not there, so it was in her head.
    So anyways I have been searching for the recipe and saw yours and it looks just like I remember hers.
    Wish me luck I just made it and it’s in the frig now, I did double your recipe.

    Thank you
    Mike

    Reply
    • Krystal Iaeger

      Mike,

      I’m sorry to hear of your wife’s passing, especially on Christmas Eve. I know exactly how rough that is on a person as my Grandma passed away on Christmas Eve as well. For me, making my Grandma’s Macaroni Salad helps me feel connected to her. I hope my recreation of her version comes close to your late wife’s version and can provide you with the same comfort.

      – Krystal

      Reply
  2. Mike

    Thank you Krystal, your recipe is very close the only thing different I think is my wife used chopped red onions.

    Reply
    • Krystal Iaeger

      So glad to hear that Mike!

      Reply

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