“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato”.
A recipe from Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking 1974 called French Tomato Salad has been the inspiration for a a flavorful addition to my catered salad bars. The recipe calls for six thinly sliced tomatoes arranged overlapping on a serving plate and poured over with a French (vinaigrette) dressing and sprinkled with minced shallots or thinly sliced green onions.
Also taking inspiration from the 1950s Italian Caprese Salad consisting of sliced tomatoes, sliced mozzarella cheese (made with buffalo milk if you want to be authentic), fresh basil and olive oil (Americans often add a little balsamic vinegar as well to give the salad some zip), I have created a hybrid version of these two recipes that is colorful and packed with flavor. I call it Summer Tomato Salad (with or without mozzarella cheese). During late summer when fresh tomatoes are at their peak, I serve this salad often and I sometimes even make a light meal of it for myself (recipe below). Enjoy!
Thinly slice tomatoes and arrange overlapping in shallow serving dish. Carefully insert a basil leaf in between each of the tomato slices. (If using, insert a slice of mozzarella in between each of the tomato slices then insert a basil leaf between each tomato and cheese slice). Sprinkle finely chopped sweet onion over tomatoes.
In a small shaker jar, combine dressing ingredients, shake well and pour over vegetables (and mozzarella). Refrigerate salad for at least two hours to blend flavors. Serve cold.
Cucumbers taste like summertime. Simply sliced with a sprinkling of salt or added to a green salad they are a refreshing bite. We are all familiar with the classic Cucumber Salad made with slices of fresh cucumber marinated in vinegar and salt and pepper. Its a recipe that has been around for generations. In this post, I’m sharing another favorite cucumber recipe — Cucumber Salad with Sour Cream Dressing. It is a combination of sliced cucumbers and leeks seasoned with fresh garlic and dill and marinated in a sour cream dressing. I have served this dish as a part of a catered salad bar and as a summer side-dish and it is a crowd pleaser. Enjoy!
Slice cucumbers and leeks
Toss together in a bowl.
Add garlic, seasoning salt and dill to cream cheese.
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!
Every spring, when I was a kid, my mom would make Creamed New Potatoes and Peas. My siblings and I loved it. Recently, I started wondering about the history of this dish — did the world know about Creamed New Potatoes and Peas or was it just a regional dish developed here in potato-growing country. I delved into my twentieth-century cookbooks to see what I could find. Right away, I learned that Creamed Potatoes has been a “thing” for at least a century, but the peas? Not so much. I also learned, quite unexpectedly, about a “lost” recipe style.
What’s In a Recipe?
My mother cooked mostly without a recipe, but as modern home cooks, we have some expectations regarding the information to be included in a recipe — a list of ingredients, the amount needed, directions on assembly, cooking or baking instructions, even serving suggestions. Interestingly, a number of recipes in my older cookbooks are written instead in a short truncated style that doesn’t include a lot of detail, leaving a home cook to rely on her own instincts and kitchen experience.
Examples of recipes written in this brief style:
There are no amounts given in the recipe above, nor does it tell the ratio of potatoes to white sauce. Another brief recipe below, gives only three sentences of instruction. The third recipe again has no measurements. I’m lost!
No wonder my mother and grandmother didn’t cook with a recipe. They weren’t always that helpful. One cookbook from the 1930s had so many recipes written in this truncated format that the editors gave them a name — “recipe-ettes” (see below). I’m glad this style didn’t catch on. I prefer lots of detail in my recipes.
A Creamy Foundation
While reading, I also looked into the history of white sauce (see recipe above). I learned that white sauce is simply the American version of a french sauce that has been around for hundreds of years called Bechamel (recipe below). Both sauces begin with a roux, which is a mixture of equal parts fat (usually butter) and flour that is cooked together for several minutes. For the American sauce, cold milk or cream is whisked into the hot roux, brought to a boil and simmered until the mixture is thickened. The French add broth to the roux, then finish the bechamel with cream. They also tend to cook their sauces much longer than Americans. I guess we are in a hurry.
Some Creamed New Potato recipes call for a super-simple sauce of heated cream seasoned with butter and salt and pepper to be poured over cooked potatoes (below). That’s for when we are really in a hurry.
Herbs and Seasonings
Adding herbs or spices to an ordinary dish is a great way to personalize a recipe and turn it into a signature dish. My old cookbooks offered some suggestions. The New York Times Cook Book 1961 featured a recipe for Herbed New Potatoes with Fresh Peas (finally someone added peas!). It calls for two pounds new potatoes, one pound fresh shelled green peas and a little light cream with dried basil for flavor and fresh parsley for garnish. A Creamed Potatoes recipe found in Joy of Cooking 1985 calls for boiled new potatoes, white sauce and dill seed for flavor. Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book 1950 calls for small new potatoes, white sauce and parsley or chives for garnish. Several other recipes call for a dusting of paprika to finish the dish.
In the late eighties, I watched a cooking show on PBS hosted by Marcia Adams, author of the award-winning cookbook Cooking from Quilt Country 1989 featuring regional (mid-west) home-style cooking. I enjoyed her program so much that I ordered the companion cookbook. I have loved it these past thirty years. The recipes are humble yet delicious, calling for ingredients readily available from farmer’s markets and grocery stores. It is from this book (and my mom’s “recipe”) that I based my recipe for Creamed New Potatoes and Peas (Yes! Adam’s recipe actually calls for peas). She uses two pounds small red potatoes and a cup and a half of green peas, fresh or frozen. The peas are added to the thin white sauce that has been seasoned with nutmeg (I have never included nutmeg), and is then poured over the boiled potatoes. She suggests a garnish of mint leaves or chives. The directions for the dish are four paragraphs long with plenty of detail. Awesome! With the addition of chopped onion, celery and a little garlic, the recipe has become my own. Enjoy!