11 Mostly Forgotten Historical Salads (That We Probably Shouldn’t Bring Back)
Salad dates back to Roman times, when cold vegetables were seasoned with brine (salata means “salty” in Latin). Variations of the dish were around throughout the Medieval and early modern periods—Queen Mary of Scots reportedly enjoyed a combo of greens, celery root, chervil, truffles, and hard-boiled eggs with creamy mustard dressing—but it wasn’t until the 19th century that the leafy appetizer really took off as a fashionable course to serve. And that’s when folks started to, well, stretch the definition of the word salad, incorporating fruit, noxious weeds, and even popular candy bars. Here are some of history’s most peculiar (and, thankfully, largely forgotten) examples.
1. CELERY VICTOR
Dreamed up by Victor Hirtzler, the head chef at San Francisco’s historic St. Francis Hotel, and published in his 1910 cookbook of the hotel’s menus, this concoction called for lengths of celery to be simmered in chicken or veal stock and then chilled in a tarragon marinade/dressing. Hirtzler also created the Crab Louis, which appears in the same cookbook and was his real salad hit—it was amongst the first salads that could be considered a full meal. But it was his Celery Victor (which featured a veggie best used as an addition or garnish) that was once hailed “an American classic.” If you're up for it, Chowhound has an updated version that adds anchovies to the dressing.
2. DANDELION SALAD
To be fair, this one’s mostly only been forgotten Stateside, but it’s still somewhat current in France and other parts of Europe. The idea’s pretty simple: Go out into the yard and pick some dandelion greens (or buy them at a market, if you must), chop them up , then dress them with olive oil and balsamic. That’s it. The yellow flowers are perfectly edible as well, but it’s the peppery, arugula-esque leaves that seem to draw the salad’s fans in. Sometimes folks will throw a minced shallot or onion in there, or, in Martha Stewart’s case, maybe some garlic scapes.
3. COKE SALAD
The fad of congealed, gelatin-encased salads really exploded in the 1950s, with hundreds if not thousands of variations emerging. But the one of the weirdest jewels in the Jell-O salad crown is arguably Coke Salad. Once popular in the American South as a church or funeral potluck dessert, this sugary confection calls for a mixture of Coca-Cola and pineapple and cherry juices to be used in place of boiling water, to activate the gelatin. The carbonation in the soda sticks around in the finished product, for a very strange take on fruit salad that seems to pop and fizz in your mouth. HuffPo recommends this version, by “John’s Mom,” that also adds the Midwestern favorite cream cheese in the mix.
4. SUNBONNET BABY SALAD
First documented in a 1917 cookbook called A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, Sunbonnet Baby Salad involves a canned pear half, scooped side down, with a child’s facial features inscribed via cloves, blanched almonds, and strips of pimento, in the style of Mr. Potato Head. The kid’s hair is made of salad dressing, in the flavor and color of your choice. The whole thing is placed on a bed of lettuce, which is supposed to curl up around the pear-baby’s head, à la a sunbonnet, and then a pimento-strip bow is stuck under the chin. As FoodFerret explains in its recipe, “The expressions may be varied.”
5. CORONATION CHICKEN SALAD
When Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953, English food writer Rosemary Hume came up with this spin on a standard mayo-based chicken salad for the new queen’s coronation luncheon. Hume may actually have been inspired by a chicken salad prepared for Elizabeth’s grandpa, George V, for his silver jubilee in 1935: Jubilee Chicken was just cold, cooked, diced chicken with curry spices and mayonnaise, but Hume’s rendition added raisins, apricot purée, and a few other odds and ends. In 2002, the recipe was punched up again for the Queen’s own golden jubilee, with the addition of lime, ginger, and crème fraîche, and once more for her diamond jubilee in 2012, with mango and minced chiles. If you really want to celebrate the Queen's birthdays this year, try The New York Times's recipe—in accordance with the Queen's dietary preferences, it doesn't include garlic.
6. PERFECTION SALAD
In 1904, a Mrs. John E. Cook of New Castle, Pennsylvania, took third place in a recipe contest with this lemony, vinegary take on the molded Jell-O salad, winning a new sewing machine for her entry. Perfection Salad was a homemaking magazine favorite for decades thereafter, in various incarnations. The beauty of this dish seems to be that you can throw just about any of the usual salad suspects in there—cabbage, celery, carrots, olives, whatever week-old produce you find in your fridge—and it still looked (subjectively) attractive, shimmering at you from inside the savory gel. As Saveur mentions in its recipe, Perfection Salad was often served alongside grilled meats or fish; Mrs. Cook herself liked it with fried oysters. The original recipe calls for the molded salad to be diced and served with mayonnaise, “in cases made of red or green peppers.”
7. CANDLE SALAD
In one of the more far-fetched interpretations of the word, this vintage fruit “salad” is just half a banana stuck in a pineapple ring, with a cherry toothpicked to the top. Voila. (If you want to get fancy, some Candle Salads have whipped cream or mayo dribbling down one side, representing a rivulet of melting wax.) Debuting sometime in the 1910s, this is perhaps one of history’s more controversial salads, not only for its, ahem, suggestive appearance, but also owing to the fact that there’s very little intermingling of ingredients. Someone just took three things and placed them near each other to form a shape. It’s not especially clear on how people are supposed to go about eating this either. Candle Salad’s greatest claim to fame is probably being the butt of separate TV segments by Ellen DeGeneres and Amy Sedaris, but if you really want to make it, Cooks.com will walk you through the process.
8. CHEESE SLAW
The outback town of Broken Hill, in the Australian state of New South Wales, is generally cited as the birthplace of this altered translation of coleslaw, although some say the recipe first appeared in a 1939 newspaper in Townsville, nearby in Queensland. Broken Hill’s residents will push back against anyone who says so, though, claiming that the Townsville recipe of the same name was, in fact, totally different and that BH is the home of legit cheese slaw, full stop. It’s true that the recipes vary, but the common denominators seem to be that you take some coleslaw and swap out the cabbage for cheese, usually blue, and that carrots need to make an appearance. Folks down under use it for everything from a hot dog topping to the innards of a grilled cheese sandwich.
9. SNICKERS BAR SALAD
What won’t the Midwest turn into a salad? Once a staple of potlucks in Iowa and the like, this alleged salad is technically more of a pudding, or maybe an advanced cake frosting. The main ingredient is either whipped cream or Cool Whip, into which broken-up Snickers bars and marshmallow cream or mini-marshmallows are added. The occasional inclusion of Granny Smith apples seem to be the only thing that might bump it up to fruit salad status, and they aren’t even required. The assembly process is pretty self explanatory, but Cooks.com has your back if you need it spelled out.
10. SEAFOAM SALAD
Initially exclusive to Woolworth lunch counters, seafoam salad’s popularity surged in the early 20th century, as the retailer’s stores proliferated in number and the dessert spread to cafeterias and buffets across America. In the classic, cream cheese, canned pears, and maraschino cherries were suspended in lime Jell-O and capped with whipped cream. Orange Jell-O was sometimes subbed for lime, even though that made it decidedly not seafoam-esque. Mayo and nuts both made appearances in some versions, but AllRecipes breaks down the most basic recipe for your retro summer dinner parties.
11. FROG-EYE SALAD
This one’s not been completely forgotten yet, but it’s rarely found outside of the Mormon Corridor (i.e., Utah, western Wyoming, and eastern Idaho). Here, acini di pepe (“grains of pepper”) pasta, which is similar to couscous and represents the eponymous frog’s eyes, are combined with Cool Whip and, somewhat bizarrely, beaten eggs cooked with pineapple juice. Food.com has the full 30-minute recipe, which includes some canned fruit and marshmallows. Frog-eye salad is particularly special in that it seems to be one of the only conflations of pasta salad and dessert salad around, so it presumably works as both an appetizer and nightcap.