Tuna Harvest Salad

Tuna salad is simple, classic fare, and—if you are from the U.S. (especially with Southern heritage)—you probably have some memories around it. Tuna, egg, pickles, green onion, celery, mayo, mustard… What’s not to like? Maybe I was just a picky kid, or maybe I just wanted a tuna salad that said, “It’s Fall, Y’all!” Thus, Tuna Harvest Salad.

As a child, I approached the days my mother made tuna salad with chagrin. Don’t get me wrong—Mom could fix just about anything she set her mind to (eclairs from scratch, for example), and she served a proper, traditional tuna salad, the sweet pickle variety. But six-, seven-, eight-year-old me thought tuna salad had problems.

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Boiled egg is a common feature in tuna salad.

Um, Eggs….

First, chopped boiled eggs: not a fan. To this day, the texture and flavor of the whites is odd to me. Much as I’d like to, I can’t enjoy an egg salad, and I’ve tried. I’ve really tried.

Even though the tuna in Mom’s salad was properly drained and the salad was properly dressed, tuna salad seemed so… “mushy!” Celery offered some crunch, but it made the salad taste a little too bitter. I didn’t understand how to change it, but that’s exactly what I wanted to do.

As a young teen, I’d sometimes make my own tuna salad—just like Mom’s minus the eggs and with a little extra sweet relish. This reduced the bitterness a little, but it was still too mushy for my taste.

To Refuse Would Be an Insult

When I was in high school, I visited a boyfriend’s house and his mother presented some tuna salad sandwiches for lunch. I was dying inside, but my momma raised me right, so I was prepared to politely eat the whole thing no matter how many boiled eggs were in there. After all, it could have been egg salad! 

I took my first bite … what? I had to lift up the bread and see what was going on under the hood. Diced apples and pecan pieces—now we were getting somewhere with this tuna salad business! Even more crunchy bits in the mix—sweet crunchy bits—to completely balance the mushy bitterness of that traditional tuna salad. It totally made it worth suffering through a few pieces of boiled egg.

Decades in the Making

For several decades, my version of tuna salad was a mash-up of those two salads (minus the eggs, please, although I’d take part of the batch and add eggs for others who preferred them). Along the way, I experimented with the tuna and started using a blend of chunk white and chunk light tuna to improve the salad texture.

Somewhere in the early 2000s I began exploring dried cranberries and thought they would be an interesting addition to my tuna salad. This was nice, but about 2010, I began to think it needed a little more … zing. Adding more mustard wasn’t the answer because the flavor overpowered everything. Then one day I was looking for sweet relish, spotted a jar of Mt. Olive diced jalapeños, and there it was—the missing piece. 

So is this Tuna Harvest Salad recipe “done”? Who knows, but this version has lasted almost a decade and it’s still going strong. It’s a salad that does not last long in this household. I am curious about starting with fresh tuna, however, instead of canned, so.… 

What memories come to mind for you around tuna salad? Do you still make salad just like your family did or have you introduced variations? And when tuna salad season starts, are you on team dill or team sweet?

“A little egg white never killed anyone.” 

-Mom

Prep time: 15-20 minutes  

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Tuna Harvest Salad

A classic tuna salad with a few twists, and eggs are optional.
Course Salad
Cuisine American
Keyword salad, tuna, tuna salad
Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Servings 5 cups
Author Lisa Kamolnick / Food Passages

Ingredients

  • 15 oz chunk light tuna
  • 5 oz chunk white tuna
  • 2 celery stalks diced (about ½ C)
  • ½ small Vidalia or other sweet onion diced (about ½ C)
  • 2 small or 1 medium Granny Smith Apple diced
  • 1 ½ TBSP diced jalapeño peppers I use Mt. Olive brand
  • 3 TBSP sweet relish
  • 5 TBSP mayonnaise I use olive oil based
  • 4 tsp yellow mustard
  • ½ C pecan pieces
  • 4 TBSP dried cranberries
  • 1 1 or 2 chopped hard boiled eggs optional

Instructions

  • Drain tuna well and place in large mixing bowl.
  • Dice celery, onion, and apple and place in bowl.
  • Break or chop pecans into pieces.
  • Add remaining ingredients and stir well.
  • Serve or refrigerate in closed container.

Notes

Tip
I use Granny Smith because I like the tang it delivers, but I’ve used Honey Crisp and Gala apples and they work too.
Serving Suggestion
This salad works well on its own, atop leafy greens or in a lettuce wrap, in a sandwich or on a bagel.