Splashy, classy or saucy, salad dressings amplify the flavor of your favorite fruits and vegetables.
Believe it or not, salads and the dressings that accompany them have a history as rich and colorful as the cultures from which they evolved. For instance, the Chinese have used soy sauce for thousands of years to dress vegetables. The ancient Babylonians favored oil and vinegar dressings. The royalty of Egyptian dynasties left written accounts of various oil and vinegar dressings, which included imported herbs and spices.
Denizens of the great courts of Europe favored elaborate salads. Prestigious royal salad chefs combined as many as three dozen ingredients in one enormous salad bowl, including exotic greens, fragrant rose petals, marigolds, nasturtiums and vegetables. Mary, Queen of Scots, is said to have preferred boiled celery root, tossed with lettuce, served with a creamy mustard dressing, truffles, chervil and diced, hard-cooked eggs.
Servers delivered the exotic salads of the royal courts to applause and fanfare and paraded them like grand trophies. Chefs competing for positions in the royal kitchens concocted elaborate salads for their wealthy patrons, dreaming up ways to blend the various ingredients’ flavors together in the most impressive, colorful and innovative way and guarding these recipes for their lifetime, sharing it only on their deathbed—if then.
It wasn’t until the mid-1800s, when cookbooks were first printed for the masses, that common people encountered salad dressings. Before that, a bit of salt, some bacon grease and vinegar might be the most exotic dressing common people ate; salad wasn’t a part of the ordinary citizen’s diet.
The word salad is said to have evolved from the Latin word for salt. The Middle English word, salade, was first recorded in a book written around 1500.
In the early 1900s, a few restaurants came to be known for their signature dressings. Bottled dressings came onto the American marketplace in the 1930s and ’40s, giving the everyday diner access to the exotic flavors once enjoyed only by royalty or the wealthy.
Joe Marzetti introduced Americans to his now-famous dressings (from his native Italy) when he opened his Columbus, Ohio, restaurant in 1896.
Richard Hellman, who owned a deli in New York City and had won numerous culinary awards, began bottling and selling his mayonnaise in 1912, first in wooden containers, then in glass jars. The Hellman’s Real Mayonnaise that we use today is basically the same recipe Hellman originated.
Caesar Cardini is credited with inventing Caesar salad in 1924 in Tijuana, Mexico (although there are those who believe it was more likely invented by Giancomo Junia, an Italian chef in Chicago, around 1903).
Ranch dressing — arguably the most popular on the market today — can be traced back to the Hidden Valley Guest Ranch near Santa Barbara, California. The owners began serving the dressing in the 1950s. Guests liked it so much that Hidden Valley began producing its instant, dry mix.
Thousand Island dressing, traditionally made from diced green olives, peppers, pickles, onions and hard-boiled eggs in a mayonnaise and chile-sauce base, dates to the early 1900s. Although often credited to a chef at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, actress May Irwin actually brought the recipe to the chef there from George and Sophia La Londe’s fishing resort in Clayton, New York.
Green Goddess, made from mayonnaise, anchovies, tarragon vinegar, parsley, scallions, garlic and spices, originated at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel, where George Arliss stayed while performing the play The Green Goddess.
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