To Dress Salad

Although salad is known to us year round, it was seasonal in early America and was served between the main meal and the dessert offerings, not as an appetizer. This version has a mustard/vinegar dressing that gives a nice bite to a cool and crisp summer greens salad.

18th Century

To have this delicate dish in perfection, the lettuce, pepper grass, chervil, &c. should be gathered early in the morning, nicely picked, washed and laid in cold water, which will be improved by adding ice; just before dinner is ready to be served, drain the water from your salad, cut it into a bowl, giving the proper proportions of each plant; prepare the following mixture to pour over it: boil two fresh eggs ten minutes, put them into water to cool, then take the yelks in a soup plate, pour on them a table spoonful of cold water, rub them with a wooden spoon until they are perfectly dissolved; then add two spoonsful of oil: when well mixed, put in a teaspoonful of salt, one of powdered sugar, and one of made mustard; when all these are united and quite smooth, stir in two tablespoonsful of common, and two of tarragon vinegar; pour it over the salad, and garnish the top with the whites of the eggs cut into rings, and lay around the edge of the bowl young scallions, they being the most delicate of the onion tribe.

Randolph, Mary, “The Virginia Housewife,” 1827.

21st Century

N.B. — Since it may be harder to get some salad greens than others the following ingredients will serve as close to Mary’s recipe as possible.

  • 2 small heads of Tennis Ball Lettuce
  • 1 small bunch of fresh Parsley
  • 1 small bunch of fresh Watercress
  • 1 small head of curly Endive
  • 1 small bunch of Scallions or Spring Onions
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • Cold Water
  • 2 Tbsp. Salad Oil (Olive or Canola)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. grainy mustard
  • 2 Tbsp. White Vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. Tarragon Vinegar
  1. Hard boil your eggs and set them aside in cold water.
  2. Separate the leaves of the lettuce and endive, trim your parsley and cress stalks from the leaf sprigs and wash them thoroughly in cold water.
  3. Drain your greens well and coarse cut the lettuce and endive.
  4. By handfuls layer your salad greens on a large plate starting with the lettuce on the bottom, then endive, cress and parsley. Make each layer a little smaller than the previous to show a layering effect.
  5. Shell your hardboiled eggs and cut them in half by the middle, not the length. Gently remove the yolk so the white remains in two halves.
  6. Put the egg yolks in a medium bowl and with a tablespoon of cold water mash them gently with a wooden spoon until dissolved
  7.  Add the oil, salt, sugar, mustard and the two vinegars to the egg yolks and blend thoroughly with the spoon.
  8. Pour the dressing over the greens as evenly as possible.
  9. Slice the egg whites in rings and circle them around the middle center of the salad.
  10.  Chop of the long green parts of the scallions (leave a little green stalk on them) and slice them length-wise and place them around the outside of the egg whites. Ready to serve!

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5 Responses to “To Dress Salad”

  1. August 31st, 2013

    Christine Hansley says:

    Hi Food Crew,
    In the first line of the 18th Century receipt, what does c. stand for. This year with Wesley’s great guidance, I’ve planted some of the heirloom varieties of lettuce and other greens, like Tennis Ball, cress, corn salad among others that are grown in CW and at Monticello. Are there any other greens that you think Mary Randolph would have used.
    Thanks for all you folks do to bring the 18th Century to those of us who are far away from CW.
    Have a great and safe holiday weekend,
    Chris

  2. September 1st, 2013

    Neil says:

    Gentlemen,
    The dressing is amazing and works well even on more complex salads.
    Neil

  3. September 22nd, 2013

    Rosie says:

    Dear Food Crew

    Many thanks for your fascinating website.

    I shall enjoy trying out the salad recipe. As a humble Brit. however, I find that I have two problems with the ingredients.

    the first I believe I may have solved, as I think ‘Pepper Grass’ may be close to our humble mustard-and-[garden]-cress, which is sold in all over the UK as seedlings packed tight in little open topped boxes, but I expect you have them in the States too!

    My second is about parsley. In the UK we now have two different mainstream types of parsley. The traditional British variety has tightly-curled bright green leaves and a strong flavour which goes well with fish and in parsley sauce. The second type has larger flat paler green leaves, and looks a little like coriander, although the taste is completely different. It has a milder, delicate flavour and is commonly used in France.

    Do you know which one was the most likely to have been used in 18th century American cooking> Unless of course there was a third type …

    With many thanks for your fascinating web site.

    Yours sincerely

    Rosie.

  4. October 9th, 2013

    Historic Foodways says:

    Thank you for the compliment! We enjoy receiving feedback for you as well!

    Since Virginia was a colony of England in the 18th century, it is likely that the variety of parsley used was similar (if not the same) to the British variety you described. But as you mentioned, every region is different.

    I encourage you to experiment with the variety of greens until you find the flavor you enjoy the best!
    Good luck!
    Melissa Blank

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