The word ‘salad’, if you go back far enough, references the Latin sal, for salt. It seems reasonable to assume that salt was an integral part of the earliest salads – or at least, of Ancient Roman salads. I think most of us would agree with the modern definitions included under the heading of ‘salad’ in The Oxford English Dictionary:
a)a cold dish of herbs or vegetables (e.g. lettuce, endive), usually uncooked and chopped up or sliced, to which is often added sliced hard-boiled egg, cold meat, fish, etc., the whole being seasoned with salt, pepper, oil, and vinegar.
b)any vegetable or herb used in a raw state as an article of food, esp. in the kind of dish described in sense a.
Meanings of words change over time, of course, and sometimes they move a very long way indeed from their origins.
In a post several years ago, I gave a recipe for ‘Lemon Salad’ which I repeat it here, for the sake of convenience.
Take the lemons and cut them into halves, and when you have taken out the meat, lay the rinds in water twelve hours; then take them out and cut the rinds thus [drawing of spiral cut]; boil them in water till they are tender; take them out and dry them; then take a pound of loaf sugar, putting to it as much white-wine vinegar, and boil it a little; then take it off, and when it is cold put it in the pot to your peels; they will be ready to eat in five or six days; it is a pretty salad.
The London Cook, (1762) by William Gelleroy.
I find this interesting. It is about as far from my own (and I suspect your) concept of salad as it is possible to get. I would more happily call it a sweetmeat or a sweet garnish than a salad – but I can hardly argue with the ‘late Cook to her Grace the Duchess of Argyle, and now to the Right Hon, Sir Samuel Fludyer Bart., Lord Mayor of the City of London.’
The following, from a century earlier, is clearly a very beautiful dish – and I would happily call it fruit salad, as it includes sugar, but is entirely without salt.
From The French Cook (1653), by la Varenne:
Sallat of Lemon.
Take Lemons, what quantity you will, peele them, and cut them into very thinne slices, and put them with sugar, orange, and pomegranate flowers [seeds, presumably*], then serve neatly.
*Instructions from elsewhere along in the book:
The garnish of Pomegranat.
Take the reddest, take out the peels and the seeds, for to garnish upon and about your dishes.
The following recipe fits the modern concept, and is unequivocally for those with a savoury tooth.
Lemon Salad is composed of sliced lemons the seeds being removed, and lettuce carefully washed and dried; the dressing is salt, cayenne and oil.
Methods of Canning Fruits and Vegetables (1890), by H. Blits
Here, however, is a lemon salad which is the dessert you have when you need to be able to say “Oh, but I only had a salad”
Grate the peel of two or three lemons into a dish; squeeze the juice of three upon it; sweeten it well. Dissolve a quarter of an ounce of isinglass in a very little water, and strain it into a quart of cream, which you will boil. Put it into a jug, and pour it, as slowly as possible, into the dish containing the lemon-juice and peel. Whilst pouring, hold the jug at as great a height as possible, that the mixture may froth. Do not move the dish until the contents are quite cold. The cream should be poured in as hot as the safety of the dish will permit.
Godey’s Lady Magazine, Vol. 49, 1854
As my final recipe, in this exploration of the concept of lemon salad, I give you an example of a concept I have never quite ‘got.’ I have tried, but failed, to appreciate the idea of jellified salads. For those of you who love and understand them, this is for you:
Lemon Gelatin Salad.
Dissolve one package of lemon gelatin in one pint of boiling water, substituting one tablespoon of vinegar for one tablespoon of water. When the gelatin is cooked add quite a large quantity of chopped walnuts, celery, apple, pimento – or any other combination that may be preferred. When set, serve with mayonnaise dressing.
Berkeley Daily Gazette - Aug 20, 1928
Quotation for the Day.
Huge lemons, cut in slices, would sink like setting suns into the dusky sea, softly illuminating it with their radiating membranes, and its clear, smooth surface aquiver from the rising bitter essence.
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)
My father ( Sicilian) always used large mature lemons – the more pith the better.
I remember first making lemon salads for my friends in the 1970s and how much they liked them, and how surprised they were at the sweetness of the
lemons, brought out through the use of salt (just like balsamic vinegar brings out the sweetness of strawberries).
Peel the skin off the lemons with a potato peeler, leaving as much pith as possible.
Cut the lemons in half and squeeze out some of the juice (otherwise the salad will be too acidic), then cut into quarters and into thin slices.
Dress with extra virgin olive oil, freshly ground pepper and salt.
Add finely chopped parsley or mint.
Add the finely chopped green leaves of fresh garlic (I grow this by sowing
garlic cloves among my pot plants – they will soon shoot).
This recipe is in Sicilian Seafood Cooking, New Holland, Marisa Raniolo Wilkins (my book)
The Blits recipe is very close to a lemonade I enjoy made with lemon juice, water, salt, pepper and ground cayenne pepper. It's refreshing on a hot day.
Thanks Marisa for your reminiscences and your recipe! I think your book is marvellous, and I do hope it is doing well. It was great to catch up with you recently!
Hi Les: I wouldnt have thought of adding cayenne to a lemony summer beverage - but it sounds great. Thanks!
I'm not surprised by the lemon gelatin recipe -- in the American South and Midwest, Jello is technically a vegetable. You can attend any church supper between International Falls and Mobile Bay and there on the salad table will be squares of bananas suspended in red gelatin, placed lovingly on a lettuce leaf and dressed with a flourish of mayonnaise.
The other favorite is "Sunshine Salad," which is orange Jello mixed with pineapple and shredded carrots. I used to love it when I was a kid.
I have tried, Sahy, I have really tried, but I just dont get jellied salads!
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