I don’t know by what means the idea of egg salad popped into my head as a subject for a blog post. I am not sure what ‘Egg Salad’ is, exactly, and I am pretty sure I have never followed any recipe for it’, although I suspect I have in fact made and eaten it at some stage in my life.
The idea of ‘Egg Salad’ brings up all sorts of questions about the nature of salads in general, and the quantity and exact role of the egg component required for a dish to qualify as specifically ‘Egg Salad’. If I have thought about egg salad at all, the eggs have always been hard-boiled. Are greens a necessary ingredient? And salads are cold dishes, are they not? Until I looked into it, I had no idea just how varied the simple dish can be.
So far, the earliest recipe I have found for Egg Salad is from one of my favourite cookery books - Domestic economy, and cookery, for rich and poor, by a lady; 1827. The recipe was repeated in cookery books, more or less word-for-word, for at least four decades. There are no greens or other ‘salad’ ingredient, but only hard boiled eggs, with dressing.
Boil six cloves of garlic six minutes, and pound them with a few capers and two anchovies; mix them very well with oil, salt, pepper, and vinegar, and dish it under hard-boiled eggs, whole or cut in two.
The following recipe gives a whole different spin on the concept. This is a pretty dish indeed, and with its lovely red and green sprinkles would make a lovely Christmas salad. The eggs are certainly hard-boiled – as a first step.
Egg salad consists of an ordinary salad made with French lettuces, with an extra quantity of hard-boiled eggs. If you want to make the salad look very pretty on the top, cut up the lettuces and dress them with oil and vinegar in the ordinary way. Make the tops of the lettuces (which should be placed in a round salad-bowl) as smooth as you can without pressing them down unnecessarily. Now take six hard-boiled eggs, separate the yolks from the whites, powder the yolks, and chop up the whites small. Sprinkle a ring of yellow round the edge of the salad-bowl, say an inch in width, then put a ring of white round, and place the remainder of yolk in the middle, almost up to the centre. Have the centre about two inches in diameter. We now have a yellow centre surrounded by a broad white rim (as, of course, there is more white than yellow), and an outside yellow ring, which meets the white china bowl. Reserve about a teaspoonful of pieces of finely chopped white, and put them in a saucer, with a few drops of cochineal, and shake them. This turns them a bright red. Sprinkle these red specks very sparingly on the white, and take about half a teaspoonful of chopped blanched parsley, and sprinkle these green specks on the yellow. This makes the dish look pretty.
Cassell’s Vegetarian Cookery, 1891.
Did I say ‘salad’ was a cold dish? How about this idea:
Hot Egg Salad.
Miss Juliet Corson.
A tablespoon of salad oil made hot. Break three eggs into it, and stir a little. Season with salt and pepper. Turn out as soon as it hardens a trifle, sprinkle over the top a tablespoon chopped cucumber, same of grated lemon rind, a tablespoon lemon juice, and 3 tablespoons salad oil.
From: Mrs Owens’ Cook Book, by Frances Owens, 1903
Stuffed eggs work too, again, without greens:
Remove the shell from six cold, hard-boiled eggs, cut in halves lengthwise; take out the yolks; mash fine, season them with an eighth of a teaspoon of mustard, quarter of a teaspoon salt, and a dash of red pepper; add just enough cream to make a smooth paste (about two tablespoons of cream are generally enough); put back into the halves of the eggs, and arrange on a bed of crisp lettuce leaves. Make a boiled dressing of eight tablespoons of vinegar, four of hot water, quarter of a teaspoon of mustard, half a teaspoon each of salt and flour, and one egg. Boil until thick; then pour over the eggs and serve at once.
The Leeds Mercury (Leeds, England), June 30, 1900
Finally, it seems that the eggs do not need to be hard-boiled, but may be scrambled – after being reconstituted:
Scrambled Egg Salad.
1 oz margarine; 3 dried eggs, reconstituted; 4 tablespoons milk; salt and pepper; 3 or 4 spring onions or 1 leek; ½ lb cabbage heart; 1 lb cooked potatoes, sliced; ¼ lb cooked green peas; 2 or 3 cooked carrots, sliced; chopped mint; salad dressing.
Melt the margarine in a pan. Mix the eggs, milk, half the onion, and seasoning, and pour into the pan. Cooke gently until just set; leave to cool. Shred the cabbage finely and mix in the rest of the chopped onion. Place in the bottom of salad bowl. Pile the eggs in the centre and arrange the potato, carrots and peas around it. Sprinkle with chopped mint and serve with salad dressing.
British Ministry of Food, Food Facts leaflet of July 1944
Quotation for the Day.
Eggs have two advantages over all other foods. First, they are procurable nearly everywhere; second, the most dainty person is sure when eating eggs that they have not been handled.
A Book for A Cook, The Pillsbury Co. (1905)