Familiar Talks with Cottagers and Flat-Dwellers – Some Suggestions concerning Salads, Their Hygienic Value and Their Preparation

This is the third article in January of the School for Housewives 1905 series published on Jan 15, 1905, and is a longer article in Marion’s series called Familiar Talks with Cottagers and Flat-Dwellers on the treatment of servants.

School for Housewives – Familiar Talks with Cottagers and Flat-Dwellers

Some Suggestions concerning Salads, Their Hygienic Value and Their Preparation

Across the water a dinner without a salad is condemned as a gastronomic solecism. We Americans would do well to copy this one foreign fashion and relax in some measure our devotion to “fries” and “pies.” As winter strengthens her hold with the lengthening days, our torpid systems require the cooling and purifying juices of fruits and esculents. In unconscious recognition of this hygienic fact our markets teem with green stuffs – celery, cabbage and lettuce – from October to April. Lettuce, the most valuable of them all, is in season all the year round.

In the United States alone salads are, by common consent, accounted the rich man’s luxury. When scarcest, they are never dear by comparison with meats and pastries. And thanks in part to the absurd fallacy aforesaid, a salad, deftly concocted, gives a touch of elegance to the plainest dinner or supper.

The preparation of this adjunct to family or company meal should devolve upon the hostess, by rights, unless she can afford a butler and assistants competent to the task. And this series of Talks is not written for the rich woman. Our flat-dweller’s maid-of-all-work is exceptionally clever if she can be trusted to dress a salad in the precise nick of time, in addition to the rest of her work.

It is such pretty business – the mixing and stirring and turning! It shows off a slim hand and well-turned wrist to such adventure that few young housewives object to the performance of the duty. Most of them take honest pride in their skill in what is justly considered an accomplishment.

If our tyro would acquire the fine art, she should, at the outset, comprehend what some so-called good housekeepers never learn, to wit, the difference between a heavy and a light salad, and the occasions on which each is to be served.

A few hints should suffice to guard her against blunders. A French dressing, to be described presently, is always the accompaniment of plain lettuce or endive. A mayonnaise is not in harmony with the crisp succulence of the tender leaves, and out of keeping with the idea of an impromptu delicacy. Such is a fresh young salad prepared before the eyes of the prospective eaters, between courses – in advertising lingo, “done while you wait.” A better reason for the rule is that lettuce and its sister, endive, wilt within a few minutes after they are touched by the condiments, and the flavor suffers sensibly under the thick coating of mayonnaise.

The simplest form, then, of the salad that follows the meat course of a family dinner, or is a pleasing accompaniment of cold meat at the Sunday might supper (which will be the subject of our next Talk) is this:

The lettuce-leaves which have lain for at least an hour in very cold water are brought to the table in a salad dish and set before the hostess. At the same time another dish and a finger-bowl are given to her. She dips her fingers in the latter, dries them on her napkin, and, daintily using the tips of them in the work, breaks the lettuce into bits, without bruising it, dropping the pieces into the second dish as she goes on. Both dishes should be chilled beforehand. If the dressing has been prepared before dinner, she now pours it over the lettuce, tossing and stirring thoroughly, but always lightly, and when the salad is well-coated serves it. Should the dressing be compounded at the table, she does it before breaking up the green leaves, and thus:


Into the bowl of a large spoon she puts a half teaspoonful of salt, half as much pepper, and – should she or her family like to temper the vinegar somewhat – as much sugar as she has salt. Upon this she pours two tablespoonfuls of vinegar, stirs the mixture with a silver fork until salt, etc., are dissolved, turns this into a small bowl and adds five tablespoonfuls of the best salad oil. Then she proceeds to work the dressing into an “emulsion” with the fork, tossing and stirring rapidly until the ingredients are smoothly blended. After breaking the cool lettuce-leaves into bits, she gives the dressing a final stir before pouring it over them. A pleasant flavor is imparted to the salad if the bowl in which it is to be served be rubbed with a cut clove of garlic before it is brought to table. Or a teaspoonful of minced chives may be blended with the dressing.

Warmed crackers, and cream or “Cottage” or any kind of fancy cheese, are passed with the salad.

A clever young housekeeper with whom I lunched unpremeditatedly yesterday, treated me to a delightful modification of lettuce salad. I pass it on to other flat-dwellers.

In the centre of the lettuce, broken into “forkable” bits before it was brought in, was a hard-boiled egg, peeled and ice-cold. Before dressing the salad, my friend cut this up with a sharp silver knife, mixed it so well with the lettuce that we often tasted rather than saw the tiny morsels of egg, and incorporated the dressing – which had the “smack” of a garlic-clove – with the rest.

A simple lettuce-salad with French dressing is the frequent accompaniment of roast and boiled chicken and game.

The universally popular mayonnaise-dressing is a far more serious affair, and in application is almost catholic.

Break into a soup-plate the yolk of one egg, and squeeze a few drops of lemon juice over it. Then, with a silver fork, begin to stir – not beat – the egg around and around. Add the oil, a drop at a time, until the mixture begins to thicken, when it may be put it in larger quantities. To one egg nearly a pint of oil is used. When very thick, thin the mixture by stirring in gradually the juice of a lemon. This done, add again, little by little, the remainder of the it, and continue the stirring until once more very thick.


All the ingredients, including the bowl, should be set in ice for several hours that they may be chilled through. The colder the materials the greater are the chances of the sauce being a thorough success. But the directions must be exactly followed. A mayonnaise is one of the subjects with which no liberties are to be taken. In spite of all precautions, the egg will occasionally curdle; but there is a remedy even for this misfortune. Take another yolk and begin again, from the beginning, as at first. When this mixture is very thick, the first dressing may be added, little by little, and very cautiously. If done carefully and slowly the result ill be a smooth, uncurdled mayonnaise, only there will be twice as much as you intended to make. You will, however, have the consolation of knowing that any of the mixture that is left over many be kept until next day on the ice, and will then be as good as ever. The household will be only too happy to have one of the endless varieties of salads for tomorrow’s lunch.

One egg and a pint of oil will make enough dressing for a family of ordinary size.

In the Recipe, Column will be found some of the “endless varieties” alluded to just now. All have been tried and found worthy of housewifely confidence.

Marion Harland


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