In the 1950s and 1960s if you ordered a “salad” with your meal at a restaurant it consisted of a big honkin’ wedge of bland iceberg lettuce smothered with a lava-like ooze of Thousand Island dressing. Because of that example, and because it was easy, my own momma served that kind of salad at her table. She didn’t have any idea that salad could be a main part of a meal. She thought this is what a salad looked like.
Perhaps my family’s idea of what salad should be speaks more to the types of restaurants where we ate, which catered to our plebeian tastes. In these restaurants, the waitress didn’t write down your order … she shouted it to the cook from your table. They featured specialties like chicken fried steak, fried catfish, or fried calf liver. Huge platters of these fried meats were served with fried potatoes, and fried okra all smothered in cream gravy. I’m telling you that eating like that as a child is how I gained my membership in the Sisterhood of the Grappling Pants.
At any rate, as an adult I tried to develop a more healthy lifestyle. Salads became a part of my cooking repertoire, and I put every vegetable in the refrigerator into each one. I discovered “fancy greens” instead of iceberg lettuce. That didn’t always set well with my family. Once I put a salad with fancy greens on the table in front of my Momma. Observing the horrified look on her face you might have thought I had dumped the baby’s diaper on the plate!
With his upper lip curled back in a sneer, my Daddy pronounced that lettuce was “rabbit food,” and much preferred steak on his plate. He might have eaten lettuce with more gusto if he had known that the ancient Egyptians considered lettuce to be an aphrodisiac. I couldn’t say that for sure, yet lettuce is certainly more appetizing than ground rhinoceros horn, though less so than red M & Ms. Or, was it the green M&Ms? I disremember.
Ancient Romans ate copious amounts of lettuce before a meal because they believed it prevented drunkenness and relaxed the alimentary canal, making it easier to gorge themselves at their gargantuan banquets. If that is so, why do I finish the salad at Olive Garden and then have to package the rest of the meal to take home?
Do whut? How dare you! Don’t whisper, “because you eat a basket of breadsticks!” That was a rhetorical question!
The Romans also thought that lettuce was a sleep aid and could cure headaches and other illnesses. In fact Emperor Caesar Augustus built a statue in honor of this humble plant, as he believed that eating lettuce had cured him of an illness.
Considered one of the oldest known vegetables, people have been eating lettuce (a member of the daisy and thistle family) for 6,000 years. The first lettuces didn’t look a bit like iceberg lettuce! Romaine was probably the first lettuce people cultivated.
Iceberg, also called “crisphead,” is all-American and wasn’t really developed as we know it today until 1948. A “crisphead” lettuce was developed in the 1890s, and one that was developed in California in the 1920s got shipped across the country packed in ice. Before that time, people had to rely on what they could grow in their own gardens. Perhaps that ice pack is what it earned the name “iceberg.” Some claim that as trains pulled into the stations across the country with shipments of the lettuce from California, folks got so excited that they called out, “The icebergs are coming! The icebergs are coming!”
I don’t know why they got so excited. Remember what an iceberg did to the Titanic?
I can’t remember the last time I bought iceberg lettuce. It isn’t that I’m a “lettuce snob,” because I’m not. I enjoy the crisp texture of iceberg in a salad, but these days, the market has so many varieties of lettuce that it boggles my mind … and it comes pre-packaged and pre-washed! Lettuce growers have also developed insidious marketing strategies to sell these greens to people like me, and it works.
In my refrigerator right now, I have a two different blends of “exotic” greens:
- One is called “Five Happiness” and claims that “Salad greens should have a taste that makes you happy!” It has baby bok choy leaves, baby red chard, tango, mizuna, baby arugula, baby spinach, baby green chard, baby green romaine, and baby oakleaf lettuce. Heck, I’ve never even heard of most of those, and I’m not curious enough to find out if they are even technically “lettuce.” I might not be “happy,” but I suppose I am at least content. It tastes good.
- The other is called “Power Greens,” including spinach, mizuna, chard and kale. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to develop muscles and be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound after I eat them, but again it tastes good.
When I mix these two together, do I have Happy Power … or am I Power Happy? It’s a conundrum. At least I am not power hungry.
Now, I have to tell you that I love salads … but I much prefer them when someone else makes them! I realize that Applebee’s is trying to bring that “wedge salad” back with something called the “Green Goddess Wedge.” Although it is topped with bacon, pecans, and bleu cheese, even the bacon won’t entice me to buy it at $4.99!
When I get a salad, I want it to have everything but the kitchen sink tossed with the lettuce. Here in Denton, I prefer to have a salad at Rooster’s Roadhouse, The Bowllery, or J & J’s Pizza Parlor. Any other suggestions for a good place for salad?
The wedge salad might be considered an “iconic American salad,” and it might be making a comeback among some restaurants … but it doesn’t please my palate. Give me fancy greens and lots of vegetables, and I’m more than happy to eat rabbit food!