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AN ENGLISH ROSE IN GEORGIA –

By Lesley Francis

ENJOYING NATIONAL SALAD MONTH

With the warmer weather I try to eat in a healthy way –partly because it is the right thing to do and partly because we are in bathing suit weather! Which brings me to salad.Did you know that May is National Salad Month which was invented in 1992?  Neither did I until I read about a poll of 2,000 adults commissioned by Brightfarms, a New York based indoor farming company that specializes inhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BrightFarms salad products grown in computer-controlled hydroponic greenhouses. They pride themselves on being non-GMO, pesticide-free, and provide supermarkets with locally grown fresh salad greens. 

Growing up in England the salads of my childhood were usually tasteless lettuce, a few slices of hard cucumber and some slices of soggy tomato. If we were lucky, we had ‘salad cream’ which is a peculiarly British invention which in my opinion is a much inferior imitation of mayonnaise. Salad cream was first introduced to the UK in 1914 as a salad dressing or for use in sandwiches.  It is pale yellow and made of oil and vinegar with the addition of some egg yolk, mustard and other flavorings and colorings. Mayonnaise is a smooth and velvety emulsion of oil and eggs with an egg yolk base and I think it is delicious. Sadly, it is high in calories and fat so I try to stick to healthier balsamic vinegar dressings.   

By the 1980s food in the UK was improving and I truly began to enjoy eating a much wider variety of salad ingredients and dressings.  However, nothing prepared me for some of the odd things Americans put in their salads.  How is this for an unusual list coming from the survey?  Bananas, beef jerky, corn, hotdogs, marshmallows, meatballs, peanut butter, peppermint, popcorn, walnuts and pretty much any kind of fruit you can name. 

The survey goes on to conclude that a whopping 78% of those participating ate at least two salads a week. Favorite greens were Romaine, spinach and iceberg lettuce.  Aside from the odd toppings listed above, the most popular toppings included cheese (42%), tomatoes (37%), bacon (30%), croutons (28%) and cucumbers (27%). What makes a good salad?  The study found salads are judged by their dressing (56%), quality of lettuce (42%), toppings (40%) and the harmony of different flavors (20%). The three top dressings were Ranch (50%), Italian (30%) and Caesar (25%).  

The history of salad as food is a long one, going back tens of thousands of years.  Ancient Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman societies combined mixed greens with salt, herbs, oil and vinegar. During the Middle Ages, salads became more of a lettuce-based, hodge-podge meal which mixed both cooked and raw ingredients of all kinds, including fruits and nuts.  

The European Renaissance period in the 15th and 16th centuries was characterized by great social changes in art, literature, science and, of course, food.  Starting in Italy, the upper classes began to see salads as an integral part of their meals, and often built huge and beautiful salad arrangements as a central part of their banquets. Fruits, vegetables and even flowers were added for taste, texture and visual appeal. 

Then in 19th century France, Auguste Escoffier came along.  He was a French chef, restaurateur, and culinary writer whose books updated traditional French cuisine and cooking methods, including salads.  He popularized the use of mayonnaise to make creamy salads and was responsible for creating salads that we now consider to be classics, called Caesar salad, Nicoise salad, and Waldorf salad.   

I am not a huge fan of ranch or Caesar dressings but I do enjoy Italian salad dressing.  Like many things in the USA, it was invented by immigrants and is thought to date back to Framingham, Massachusetts in 1941 when Florence Hanna made large batches of her own salad dressing for the house salads at her family’s restaurant. Italian dressing as we now know it got its name from ingredients often used in Italian cooking including oregano, basil, and garlic along with olive oil and vinegar.  

Once in a while I splurge on creamy Thousand Island dressing which is made from ketchup, mayonnaise, worcestershire sauce and other seasonings.  It apparently dates back to the beginning of the 20th century from the Thousand Islands – a chain of islands between northern New York and Canada.  Legend tells us that the chef from the wealthy Waldorf-Astoria family’s summer home at Boldt Castle, was creating a lunch on the family yacht while cruising in the Thousand Islands and forgot the salad dressing so he improvised with what he had on board. 

In the late 20th century, a search for a healthy alternative to fast foods in America expanded the salad horizon even further to Chef’s salads, Cobb salads, restaurant salad bars, grocery stores selling pre-packaged salads, and on it goes. 

There is more information at www.sharebite.com and www.brightfarms.com. 

Circling back to the Brightfarms survey, I say goodbye this week with a quote from their Chief Salad-Seller and Senior Director of Marketing, Jessica Soare:  “If it’s done correctly, a salad can be a perfect meal that combines satisfying flavors, textures, and beautiful colors.” Yum, time for lunch! 

God Bless America!   

– ENDS – 

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@francis.com or via her full-service marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com.