I do love a salad.
I’m pretty broad minded when it comes to what constitutes an acceptable salad. I’m here for anything from a lightly dressed few green leaves straight out of the garden, through to a complex mix of Middle Eastern grains and pomegranate syrup.
Even the salads of my 1970s childhood, mostly involving a platter of iceberg lettuce leaves, decorously strewn with tomato wedges, cucumber slices and carrot sticks were good in my book. Add some cubes of cheese or hardboiled egg slices if you wanted to get fancy, and serve some mayonnaise made with condensed milk on the side. Fine by me!
But you do have to draw the line somewhere, and not every salad innovation has represented an improvement on the theme. Your honour, I give you my top 20th century salad criminal offences:
1. Set in jelly? Not a salad.
The late 19th and early 20th century produced a range of recipes for vegetables and other ingredients set in aspic and served cold for ‘luncheon’. And they didn’t stick to veg – sardines, egg, cheese, in savoury jelly were other popular inclusions.
Salad is not something you should be able to serve in slices.
The 1970’s incarnation is the sunshine salad, involving pineapple and grated carrot set in lemon jelly. My mother and mother-in-law both make excellent versions of this retro salad at Christmas time. But I’d be happier to have it in a bowl for dessert.
2. Extracted from one can? Not a salad.
You can’t be Australian and not enjoy some tinned sliced beetroot on your burger or added to your iceberg lettuce on a plastic picnic plate with a BBQ sausage. Extra points if it’s served from an ingeniously designed Tupperware storage container with the nifty insert that lets you lift the sliced from the juice. No self-respecting Australian summer meal table would be without it.
But tinned beetroot is not in itself a salad. Similarly, while I am a fan of the 3- or 4-bean mix, that’s just a tin of beans.
3. Involves marshmallows? Definitely not a salad.
OK, so then there’s that American traditional Thanksgiving inclusion, ambrosia salad. Is this melange of marshmallow, sour cream, coconut, oranges and pineapple a side for the main course? Is it a dessert? Either way, it’s not a salad.
4. All about appearance? Not a salad.
I like a nattily carved radish. I really do. But it’s not a salad. Neither is some peas arranged in a carefully carved lemon basket. That’s just cold peas in a lemon skin.
Finally, there’s the candle salad, apparently a popular recipe in America from the 1920s, and found in Australian recipes in the thirties. Imagine: a slice of pineapple with a banana protruding upright from it. Sure, a candle is what it most resembles. I’m not giving you a picture – feel free to Google it. I rest my case, your honour.