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A Southern Salad

Salad information and two traditional dressing recipes


Salads have always been an important dish on the Southern table. A century before "green" salads became a regular element in the American diet, Mary Randolph, through "The Virginia Housewife," gave detailed instructions on making a fresh garden salad with a dressing which included tarragon vinegar and hard-boiled eggs.

The Southern states had essentially no vegetable oils until the late nineteenth century, which meant that vinaigrettes and mayonnaise were confined to the tables of the wealthy who could afford imported olive oil. Boiled salad dressings were the solution for the rest of the people, using cream or a combination of butter and milk for the fat. Similar to hollandaise sauce, it is not actually boiled, but gently cooked in the top of a double boiler.

Boiled Dressing

  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/8 tablespoon white pepper
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
Sift dry ingredients into the top of double boiler. Stirring slowly and constantly with the whisk, add the cold water in a steady stream until smoothly combined. Add the egg yolks and vinegar and place over boiling water in the bottom of the double boiler. Stir constantly and watch carefully - it will thicken in the blink of an eye. Take the mixture off the heat and beat in the butter. Then slowly beat in the cream. Refrigerate.

"This sauce has traditionally bound the many composed salads of the South: cabbage, potato, bean, chicken...."
Boiled Dressing from "Bill Neal's Southern Cooking"

Lettuce - To Make the Sauce

One teaspoonful of mustard, one of salt, two of loaf sugar pulverized, a tablespoonful of olive oil, a teacup of vinegar; mix these together; put in a stew-pan until scalding hot. Beat two eggs well; pour to them the hot vinegar, stirring constantly until the danger of the eggs curdling is over. It must be entirely cold before being applied to the lettuce.

"Mrs. Hill's Southern Practical Cookery And Receipt Book" - Annabella P. Hill
(facsimile of Mrs. Hill's New Cookbook, 1872 edition)

Salad-Making Tips

  • The ratio for a vinaigrette is typically 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar or lemon juice, etc..

  • Make a quick avocado dressing by combining half an avocado with a cup of vinaigrette in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth.

  • When substituting yogurt for sour cream in a dressing, use a little less vinegar, as the yogurt is naturally acidic.

  • Fruit juices such as pineapple, orange or mango can be used as salad dressing by adding a little vegetable oil, a dash of nutmeg and honey if desired.
  • Delicious on fruit seafood, or mixed greens.

  • Cook pasta for salads very al dente. This will allow the pasta to absorb some of the dressing and not become mushy.

  • Hot pasta can be combined with vinaigrette, but cool at least to room temperature before adding herbs and vegetables to keep them from wilting.

  • New potatoes are best for potato salad, but if they aren't available, use boiling potatoes.

  • Chill the serving plates to keep your salad crisp longer.

    Potatoes will absorb more dressing if you dress them hot then refrigerate.

  • When making potato salad, marinate still-warm potatoes in a little vinegar and oil; this will add flavor to the finished salad. Or, dress the potatoes while still quite warm, then refrigerate to cool quickly.

  • If making pasta salad, cook until very al dente; the pasta will then be able to absorb some of the dressing and remain firm.

  • When using long noodles, rinse with cold water to remove excess starch to prevent clumping.

  • To mix greens with less mess, refrigerate in a plastic bag. When ready to serve, toss with the dressing in the bag, then transfer to individual serving plates.

    More Salad Dressings

    Salad Recipes
    Coleslaw and Cabbage Salad Recipes
    Potato Salad Recipes
    Pasta Salad Recipes
    Vegetable Salad Recipes
    Spinach Salad Recipes
    Bean Salad Recipes
    Rice Salads
    Fruit Salads
    Main Dish Salads

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