Merriam-Webster's Online dictionary, 11th edition, defines salad as “small pieces of food (as pasta, meat, fruit, or vegetables) usually mixed with a dressing (as mayonnaise)”. Well, that is a broad definition. The salad that I want to talk about is that which is commonly called tossed salad, house salad, side salad, or green salad.
Something has been bothering me for some time now. A couple of things.
The first thing is that over the past several years I have found that when I am served a meal including, say, meat, potatoes, and salad, my appetite craves the heavier foods first, followed by the salad.
I have heard it said somewhere that salad last is the natural way to order the meal, that the raw vegetables contribute best to good digestion when they are taken last. Sounds right to me, although I have not attempted to research the matter. I would have no idea where to begin such a research.
I have also heard it said that historically salads were served after heavier courses and that modern restaurants changed the order of things to help keep their tables turning over. A salad can be placed before the customer quickly, so that he eats the salad while his main course is being readied. He is not kept waiting—nor the table occupied—any longer than necessary. Again, I would not know how to run the matter down.
In any case it is not the history of the matter that bothers me. It is the fact that salad is generally served before the meat course, and I would prefer it after. Of course I could try asking my waiter to serve meat before salad. I could also try just setting my salad aside until after I have taken the meat. Perhaps I will experiment with this, do my own research under actual field conditions.
The second thing bothering me is that I have come to dislike the action of eating a salad, of trying to pick up those thousands of cut-up bits of lettuce and tomato and onion and radish and lettuce and cucumber and lettuce. It is not easy to do. I end up with salad on the table, salad in my lap, salad on the floor. And salad on my plate, the little pieces that I can't get onto the fork.
Moreover, I live in Mexico, where the people seem to me excessively concerned about the cleanliness of food. Take lettuce. In my family, anyway, one would peel off the three or four outermost leaves of a head of lettuce, then cut up the rest and route it directly to the salad. In Mexico, no way. After the lettuce is cut up or broken up, all the little pieces are put in a bowl or pot and bathed in water. Now one might wash off a carrot and dry it with a towel. But there is no way to remove excess water from cut-up lettuce. So the salad ends up with a substantial pool of water in the bottom of the bowl.
Actually there is a way to remove most of the water from lettuce, and that is to put the lettuce in a wire basket on chains and sling it around—centrifuge it, if you will. But I have never seen that done here. I have only seen it a couple of times in the United States.
Due to a neurological disorder, managing a salad is more difficult for me than it is for most people. I recently went through a few months of intensified symptoms that directed my attention to the construction of a salad and the question of why it had to be that way—many tiny pieces. I would appreciate ever so much more having my salad vegetables served whole or in larger pieces, more suitable for fingers than fork. A wedge of lettuce, say, a couple of radishes, half an onion, a carrot, whatever else, and optionally a bowl of dressing to dip them in.
* * *
The same dictionary mentioned above gives another definition of salad as “a usually incongruous mixture : hodgepodge”.
From time to time I have thoughts which I would like to share with others, such as my thoughts on salad. Trivial thoughts on trivial topics. Writing that shows my trivial side. If you have read the essay “Letters to grandboys” on this web site, you know that everything on the site is in some way autobiographical. It is, moreover, meant to be read by my grandsons, whom I am seldom able to see, so they will know me. That means the trivial side along with the weightier elements. So let us gather such thoughts into an incongruous mixture, a hodgepodge, a salad, and title it “Salad”, and add sections to it under such subtitles as may seem best.
My grandfather Mansfield was a verbal genius; my grandfather Hinton a mechanical genius. If my life and energy last long enough I will transcribe onto this site some writings of my grandfather Mansfield. But what I have is mostly correspondence, which has a certain formality about it. Only in a few rare places do we find his trivial side, such as in a motto he wrote on the fly leaf of some of his textbooks: “Be strictly decent, for the Sheriff will find you out.” I can just see him now, chortling as he drafted the motto, perhaps using “upright”, then honed it into “decent”, and added the capitalization of “sheriff”.
Will my grandsons have the same way with words that I and my grandfather had? Well, I am doing my best to see that at least they will not lack exposure.
[Fill in links to trivial essays as they get written.]
Copyright © 2011 Joseph Mansfield. All rights
2011.07.03 First draft