“A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible.”~Welsh Proverb
As a young man of sixteen, Oscar Tschirky immigrated to America from Switzerland with his mother in 1883 to join his older brother in New York City where they hoped to make a better life. Within a day of his arrival, Oscar landed a job as a busboy in the Hoffman House, an elegant hotel in the city. Five years later he was manager of a dining room in Delmonico’s, the best restaurant in New York, where he refined the skills necessary to become the Matre d’ of the Waldorf Hotel (soon to become the Waldorf-Astoria). Hired before the hotel opened in 1893, he was essential in stocking supplies, hiring staff and developing management systems. Oscar, himself, turned the key on opening day and went on to become the”face” of the Waldorf-Astoria during his fifty-year career. Ironically, beloved by heads-of-state, Hollywood types and business tycoons, Oscar’s lasting claim to fame was the Waldorf salad.
Though not a chef, just three years after the opening of the Waldorf, Oscar published a 900-page cookbook titled The Cook Book by “Oscar” of the Waldorf 1896 which includes a now-ubiquitous recipe for Waldorf Salad. Calling for three simple ingredients, apples, celery and a good mayonnaise (recipe below), it seems much too humble for the glitz and glamour of New York high society, but the salad had had a victorious debut at a gala event planned and overseen by Oscar coinciding with the opening of the hotel.
Coming upon a copy of Oscar’s original Waldorf Salad recipe (above), I was disappointed that no particular variety of apple was suggested. It would be interesting to experience the exact flavor profile of the original.
Also being curious about the adaptation of the recipe over the past one hundred years, I researched nearly two dozen twentieth-century cookbooks. Interestingly I found that most of them contained a recipe for Waldorf Salad, many very similar to the original version, with some specifying red-skinned apples. The only twentieth-century cookbook, Cooking In Quilt Country 1989, that mentions using a particular variety of apple calls for Jonathan or McIntosh. Either apple may well have been the variety that Oscar used as they both grew prolifically in New York state at that time. Perhaps part of the charm and longevity of this recipe is that the home cook can personalize it simply by the variety of apple he or she uses.
One of the earliest adaptations of Waldorf Salad is the addition of chopped nuts — walnuts usually, but also pecans as mentioned in The Joy of Cooking 1931 by Irma Rombauer. Curiously, her recipe is one of the few that suggest peeling the apples before chopping. The Waldorf Salad recipe found in The Household Searchlight Recipe Book 1944 (below) stays true to Oscar’s original recipe except for the now classic addition of chopped nuts:
What’s In the Dressing
Another common adaptation to Waldorf Salad is the dressing, especially early in the century when commercial mayonnaise was in its infancy. Martha Meade’s Modern Meal Maker 1939 contains a recipe-ette called Apple and Celery Salad, but its confusing. How is the one cup shredded lettuce intended to be used — mixed in with the salad or as the lettuce cups — Hmmm. The Golden Dressing is the intriguing part of this recipe (below). Its fussy, but maybe not as fussy as homemade mayonnaise. And it sounds delish (recipe below).
Mary Meade’s Modern Homemaker Cookbook 1966 suggests adding whipped cream to the mayonnaise dressing. She also suggest using unpared red-skinned apples (recipe below):
Before salad dressings were readily available in grocery stores, cooks made them at home so older recipes frequently call for a “cooked” or “boiled” dressing. A recipe for Waldorf Salad (below) printed in General Foods Cook Book 1932 containing apples, celery and nuts calls for Cooked Salad Dressing made of thickened mustard, sugar, egg yolks, vinegar and milk — sweet or sour:
A curious dressing for Waldorf Salad comes from a recipe found in The American Woman’s Cook Book 1966 which calls for a French vinaigrette to dress the apples, celery and walnuts. The salad is served on lettuce leaves and topped with a dollop of mayonnaise.
Mid-century home cooks began expressing their creativity by including additional fruits in their Waldorf Salad. The Good Housekeeping Cookbook 1963 is a perfect example of this. The recipe titled Pear Waldorf Salad (recipe below) suggests substituting fresh peeled and diced pears in place of apples in an otherwise typical Waldorf Salad. Being intrigued by this recipe and canning pears at the time, I decided to give it a try. It was delicious! Bartlett pears, however, are softer and juicier than apples causing the salad to break down quickly. If I were to make it again, I would follow the recipe’s alternate suggestion of using half apples and half pears. Notice the other inclusions in Pear Waldorf Salad — fresh, frozen, or canned pineapple, banana cubes (a strange term) or one cup sectioned oranges, and one cup grapes. The final adaptation of this recipe takes us full circle to the classic Waldorf Salad with unpared red apples, chopped celery, and walnuts tossed with a mayonnaise dressing and embellished with a half cup of raisins.
The final Waldorf Salad entry is a recipe found in Farm Journal’s Busy Woman’s Cookbook 1971 titled Waldorf Variation Salad — an appropriate title for nearly all twentieth-century Waldorf Salad recipes. It takes a citrus-y spin with frozen lemonade concentrate as the dressing (recipe below):
My Waldorf Salad recipe is fairly traditional, calling for apples, celery, and chopped pecans with a mayonnaise dressing sweetened with a little honey. Sometimes I add a handful of raisins or dried cranberries for flavor and texture. It is a delightfully crisp Autumn salad that is a nice addition to a salad bar or as a side dish. The variety of apple that I often use is Honeycrisp because of its thin, tender red skin. Older varieties such as sweet-tart Jonathon or McIntosh are also tasty choices. For a lighter version of the dressing, a thick plain Greek yogurt can be used in place of the mayo, but the salad will be missing its wonderful piquant flavor. Enjoy!
Finely chop celery.
Combine honey and mayo or Greek yogurt.
Pour dressing over apples and celery.
Toss in chopped pecans and raisins if desired.
- 3–4 large red-skinned apples
- Juice from a half lemon OR a sprinkling of Fruit Fresh
- 1 cup finely chopped celery
- 1/2–3/4 cup mayonnaise or plain Greek yogurt
- 1–2 Tbsp honey (adjust to your taste)
- 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
- 1/4 cup raisins or dried cranberries (optional)
- Dice apples and sprinkle with lemon juice or Fruit Fresh; set aside. Finely chop celery and mix with apples in a large bowl.
- In a small bowl, blend honey with mayonnaise or Greek yogurt. Drizzle dressing over apples and celery; toss to coat.
- Fold in chopped pecans, reserving some for garnish, add raisins or dried cranberries if desired.
- Chill until ready to serve.
Note: Yogurt dressing begins to break down quickly so plan to serve the salad no more than an hour after preparing. The mayonnaise dressing is more stable.
Recipe Compliments of Cookbooklady.com