Long before MTV discovered the Jershey Shore, my Grand Parents did. Even before Atlantic City legalized gambling, Ralph and Myrtle bought a cottage two blocks from the Atlantic in a tiny town named Avalon. As a kid we spent at least a week or too there almost every summer. And every summer, at every dinner we had a green tossed salad, and every time it had the same exact salad dressing.
Like most people of her generation she didn’t buy salad dressing she made it. It was, as I would later learn, a pretty basic Vinaigrette with one distinct difference… a pretty substantial dose of celery salt. She either measured all the ingredients every single time or made a 50 gallon batch every decade or so, because it never varied.. ever. A few years ago, visiting my brother in Texas, I had it again. It was exactly as I remembered it from at least a decade before. She had given him the recipe, he followed it, and it was dead on. Grandma Wilson made the same exact vinaigrette every time. I, on the other hand, have never made the same dressing twice.
Vinaigrette needs 3 things vinegar, oil and salt. I have 1936 edition of The Boston Cooking School Cookbook, originally written in1896 by one Fannie M. Farmer. The very first entry in the salad dressing chapter is:
Basic French Dressing
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/4 cup vinegar, red wine vinegar, lemon juice or half vinegar and half lemon juice
Place ingredients in small, covered bottle or glass jar. Chill thoroughly. Just before serving, shake vigorously 1 or 2 minutes. Make up a larger amount and keep on hand to use in many ways, to marinate meat or vegetables as well as seasoning and salad dressing.
Well that pretty much sums it up in a nut shell. I love old cook books; before people felt the need to have a “signature” recipe for even the basics. But thats another post…. Mrs. Farmer then goes on to list about 50 different “Special French Dressings” including my favorite “Lakewood Dressing”, I googled this (in quotes) and according to the big G this is only the second time EVER that “Lakewood Dressing” has appeared on the internet. That’s pretty crazy.
Back to vinaigrette… something sour, something salty, some fat, usually some thing sweet, herbs and spices, garlic, onion etc… In my pantry I have 12 different vinegars, 4 different oils, 5 different sweeteners, 21 spices, 4 different salty things, and 5 different types of onions… by my math that is 100,800 possible variations. Add just 10 different cheeses to the mix and you have a million possibilities…technically one million eight thousand but whose counting.
Here are a few to get you started:
- olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, oregano, basil, shallot, mustard
- balsamic vinegar, orange juice, olive oil basi
- rice wine vinegar, ginger, honey, canola oil and a few drops of sesame oil
- Port wine vinegar, blue cheese crumbles, sugar, canola
Follow the basic proportions written so many years ago and use your imagination. Taste it before you put it on your salad and if it isn’t good just throw it out. There is probably a bottle of ranch nearby. In the mean time I’ll see if I can scare up Grandma’s recipe… I know that one works.