Lettuce loves the cool, and in the midst – the mist – of a wet spring flaunts dazzling arrays of emerald and lime green, dark purple and bronze. The lettuce patch shares a little something with the slugs, any, that is, who survive Bob’s headlamped nighttime slug patrols. And still there’s plenty. Bring on the clouds and cool, lettuce thrives. Tomatoes? Another story.
My grandmother harvested piles of lettuce for noon dinners with family and hired hands, all gathered around one huge table. Wilted lettuce was frequently part of the meal and I loved it. I wasn’t fond of many veggies, but this was different. On tiptoes, I stood at the stove next to her starched and ironed apron, anticipating, watching her stir the bits of bacon, adding onion and apple cider vinegar to the pan and then pouring it over the greens. Maybe it was the bacon drippings and that the salad was warm and slightly wilted, or that I loved the bit of drama surrounding it, the sizzling dressing poured over the greens and then taken immediately to the table for our eating, or that it just tasted so good. I ate my fair share, my childhood starter salad, salad with training wheels. It got me interested.
Random thought . . . it was at this noon dinner table, surrounded by this family, that I was given my first camera, my 7th or 8th birthday I think. A Kodak Brownie. The first thing I did was to take pictures of all the cats, my brother’s bee sting and a tractor tire. Where did those works of art end up?
So, the wilted lettuce. The secret is in the ample vinegary dressing, made on the stove with bacon and onion and then drizzled piping hot over a big pile of lettuce. With a lettuce crop at its prime in our garden, we have salad coming out of our ears. No complaints. This is a good way to change it up. Bacon is a key ingredient – if you don’t eat it, skip it and use just the onion and more olive oil.
The warm, acidic dressing softens the greens which I think is especially appealing to children, perhaps to all of us, and actually brightens flavor as heat often does with food. This is a treat at our house. I pass it on, from my grandma’s kitchen to yours.
Shinny’s Wilted Lettuce Salad Recipe
Ingredients: Plenty of lettuce, bacon optional, 1/2 – 1 whole onion, vinegar and oil.
Prepare 6 cups or more of lettuce, abundant at Farmer’s Markets these days, and place in a large salad bowl. This is enough for 2 or 3 generous servings, 4 or 5 smaller.
On the stove: Sauté two or three pieces of minced bacon in a non-reactive pan because vinegar is added later on/ When bacon is nearly crisp, add 1/2 thinly sliced medium onion, more if you love lots of onion, or several small spring onions/ Sauté for 2 – 3 minutes with the bacon, or until slightly softened/ Add olive oil to bacon drippings as needed to make 6 – 8 T of oil in the pan/ Or, use no bacon and just olive oil with the onion/ When onions are cooked and tender, turn heat down and add 1/4 C apple cider or red wine vinegar/ It will steam and bubble like crazy, have a sizzling hissy fit and so will your sinuses if you don’t step back a bit/ Let it bubble only briefly, just a few seconds, or it will reduce and disappear/ Turn off heat, give it a whisk, taste it, add more vinegar or oil if needed and turn the heat off/ Pour most of the hot dressing over greens, toss and taste. Add remaining dressing if needed/ Serve immediately with lots of freshly ground pepper. Increase or decrease dressing ingredients according to your own bowl of salad.
The lettuce patch: in order to have lettuce mostly year round, we plant seeds or starts every couple of months. As one crop matures and is eaten, another is starting and will be ready to thin, then harvest in a few weeks.
FYI: RockRidge Orchards makes a local apple cider vinegar, and Rocksalmic, their aged, thickened and sweetened apple cider vinegar. Both delicious.