As a kid did you ever play travel games to pass the time while on a road trip? I remember playing “I Spy”, the “License Plate” game and “Simon Says” with my siblings as we drove across the state to visit our grandparents. My personal favorite was the memory game “Going on a Picnic” where each player says, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring…” the player then lists an item starting with the letter “A” such as Apples. The next player says, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring Apples and…”, that player adds an item beginning with “B“, and so on. In our version, the items didn’t always have to be food items — every picnic needs Paper Plates, Napkins, a Volley ball and maybe an Umbrella, in case of rain. As I recall, the last person always brought Zucchini.
Picnic Bean Salad
Most times, when my family took a road trip, it was for a family celebration or reunion which often involved a potluck picnic where everyone brought their signature dish to share — a dish that travels well, serves a lot of people and gets the cook the most compliments. On my husband’s side of the family, my signature dish has become Four Bean Salad (a recipe handed down on my mother’s side of the family). I almost feel guilty that such an easy salad is my requested contribution. There is almost no work involved in the prep as most of the ingredients come from a can. It travels/stores well since there is no mayonnaise in the dressing and the presentation is eye-catching with all the colorful ingredients. Best of all, the flavor is zippy! Lucky is the person who gets the last few tablespoons of vinaigrette in the bottom of the bowl once the vegetables are gone. Drizzle that over potato salad or green salad and it takes flavor to a whole new level!
Nouveau Bean Salad
I remember my grandmother making Bean Salad when I was a little girl. With some research in my twentieth-century cookbooks, I discovered that Bean Salad was still fairly nouveou in the 1960s. The first Bean Salad recipe on record was printed in a booklet put out by Stokely — Van Camp (processors of canned dried beans and makers of pork-and-beans) in the 1950s. The earliest recipe printed in a comprehensive cookbook is found in The Good Housekeeping Cookbook 1963. The Good Housekeeping recipe, appropriately titled Three Bean Salad, calls for one pound cans of french-cut green beans, yellow wax beans and red kidney beans drained and combined with half cups of minced green pepper and onion, to be dressed with a classic vinaigrette consisting of salad oil, cider vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. The directions suggest making the salad the day before serving to allow flavors to blend. My grandmother’s Four Bean Salad (recipe below) is very much like this recipe.
A Good Vegetable Salad
While researching pre-1950s cookbooks, I didn’t find a single bean salad recipe, but I did find recipes for marinated green beans to be served as a cold salad, so I’m wondering if marinated green beans might have been the precursor to the now classic Bean Salad.
Elizabeth O. Hiller’s 52 Sunday Dinners 1913 suggests serving a cold Veal Loaf (very similar to meatloaf of today) on the first Sunday in July. The recipe instructs the home cook to pack the seasoned ground veal “solidly in a granite, brick-shaped bread pan” and “bake in a moderate oven for three hours”. The veal loaf is then chilled, removed to a platter and surrounded with a “good vegetable salad”. The recommended vegetable salad is String Bean Salad (recipe above) comprised of cooked string beans, void of strings of course, marinated in French Dressing (meaning a vinaigrette) sprinkled with sliced fresh onion, chopped parsley and Nasturtium blossoms for garnish (Nasturtiums are a brightly-colored edible flower with a peppery flavor similar to radishes). Joy of Cooking 1931 also presents a comparable marinated String Bean Salad minus the veal loaf and flower blossoms.
Modern Stringless Green Beans
Beans (Green or Wax) Young pods are now stringless. ~Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book 1950
After decades of hybridizing, string beans finally lost the fibrous strand that ran the length of each bean as announced by the authors of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book 1950. With no strings attached, the beans eventually came to be known as green beans (however my grandmother called them string beans her whole life). The Modern Family Cook Book 1953 used modern terminology when naming its dish “Green” Bean Salad (recipe above). Celery and radishes were added for crunch, and mayonnaise is suggested as an option for dressing the salad.
At Long Last
Finally, in the early 1960s, a clever cook thought to add cooked dried beans to a marinated green bean salad — and the rest, as they say, is history. In this charming 1964 women’s magazine ad for Kraft French (vinaigrette) Dressing, if we look closely enough, we can see a recipe for Three Bean Salad calling for 2 cups lima beans, 2 cups kidney beans, 2 cups cooked cut green beans, 1 cup chopped tomato, 1 cup sliced celery and half a cup of chopped sweet pickles, tossed with Kraft French (vinaigrette) Dressing.
Bean salads are always popular, especially for buffet serving. ~Ruth Ellen Church, Mary Meads Modern Homemaker Cookbook 1966
Ms. Church speaks authoritatively of the popularity of Bean Salads so we can assume that by 1966 the concept had been around for several years. Then, as with recipes now, cooks loved to personalize their dishes. The recipe in Mary Meads Modern Homemaker Cookbook 1966 is called Chinese Bean Salad (not surprising since Americans have had a fascination with “exotic” food post WWII). Ingredients include green beans, wax beans, (no dried beans however) water chestnuts and red onions tossed in a dressing of vinegar, sugar, salad oil, soy sauce and celery salt.
Bean Salad Flattery
The Farm Journal’s Busy Woman’s Cookbook 1971 includes a recipe titled Overnight Bean Salad located in the “Make-Ahead Cooking” section promoting the convenience of Bean Salad. Interestingly, the recipe is exactly the same recipe as described above from The Good Housekeeping Cookbook 1963. Its said that imitation is the best form of flattery. I’d say its also a good indicator of a great recipe.
Below is my family’s recipe for Bean Salad. We call it Four Bean Salad. It could also be called Four Generation Bean Salad as it is the recipe my grandmother used, the one my mother and I use and the one my daughters now use. Anyone of us could say, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring a really good Bean Salad”. Enjoy!
Four Bean Salad
- 2 (14.5 oz) cans cut green beans
- 1 (14.5 oz) can cut wax beans
- 1 (15.5 oz) can kidney beans
- 1 (15.5 oz) can garbanzo beans
- 1 (4 oz) jar diced pimientos
- 1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced
- 1 green bell pepper
- 2/3 cup cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup salad oil
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- Ground black pepper to taste
- Rinse and drain garbanzo beans and kidney beans. Drain green beans and wax beans. Place in a large bowl and add pimientos, sliced sweet onion and bell pepper.
- In a small bowl, combine vinegar, salad oil, sugar, salt and pepper; whisk to combine. Drizzle over prepared beans and vegetables; toss to coat.
- Store in air-tight container in the refrigerator for six hours or overnight, stirring from time to time.
Recipe Compliments of cookbooklady.com