It is spring here in England and my body is telling me I need fresh raw food after the long winter of comfort food. I can’t get enough of it.
Luckily I have a garden where I have encouraged those first leafy plants to provide the greens I need (my neighbour thought I was just cultivating weeds) and they are all starting to come through now – rocket, sweet cicely, garlic mustard, dandelions, lemon balm, parsley, chard, spinach, early sprouting broccoli, sorrel and mint. I like to wander round the garden putting a bit of this and a bit of that in a bowl then with a little lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper just down the whole dish.
So with salads to the fore I have been reading through some great books with historic salads in mind.
An early recipe for salads ‘A Grande Salade for Spring’ comes from the Receipt Book of John Nott, Cook to the Duke of Bolton, 1723 and shows how spring herbs and greens were used for feasts not for your everyday lunch.
Take cowslip buds, violet-flowers and leaves; young lettuce, spinach, Alexander Buds, Strawberry leaves, water cresses, each apart by themselves and then take also Capers, Olives, Samphire, Cucumbers, Broombuds, Raisins and Currans parboiled, Almonds blanched, Barberries and other pickles, then lay a Turnip or some other hard thing for a Standard in the middle of the Sallad, let it be formed like a Castle made of Paste washed over with the Yolks of Eggs and within it a Tree made in like manner and coloured with green Herbs and stuck with flowers; you must also have annexed to it twelve supporters round it, sloping to it, and fastened to the Castle.
Another early salad recipe is for Salamongundy and comes from The Art of Cookery by Hannah Glasse published in 1765, one of the absolute classics of English recipe books. Designed to form the centrepiece for a supper table, decorated and formally presented, the original recipe (or receipt) uses 2 cooked chickens, so I have given amounts per portion and you can increase as you need.
110 g (4oz) cooked chicken, a handful of lettuce or other green leaves, 2 chopped anchovies, a hard-boiled egg, ¼ lemon (peel and chop the flesh), parsley, 6 small silver skinned onions, 2 tablespoons vinaigrette dressing,30 g/1 oz white grapes, 55g/2 oz cooked French beans.
Cut or pull chicken into bite size pieces. Combine the egg yolks, anchovies, lemon and half the vinaigrette. Shred the lettuce or leaves and place on plate. Chop egg whites. Add all the ingredients to the plate either in a decorative order or mix together. I prefer it mixed. Before serving add the last of vinaigrette. Or as Mrs Glasse says ‘You may always make Salamongundy of such things as you have, according to your fancy.’
On a more mundane level Pearl Adam in Kitchen Ranging – A Book of International Cookery published in 1928, includes that salad horror English Summer Salad. ‘
The ‘green salad’ is in England usually diversified by sliced tomato, beetroot and hard-boiled egs; spring onions are arranged all around the bowl, with two inches of their stems facing upwards. These give the necessary flavour to the salad, while allowing onion lovers to add as much to their salad as they wish.
The great thing about salads is that there is something for everyone and any time of the year. Whatever your favourite salad recipe, and there are hundreds of variations for all your favourite foods, enjoy it now whether it is spring, summer, autumn or winter where you are.