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Salad dressings for summer days

As the warm weather shows no real sign of abating, are you starting to tire of summer salads? Today’s three recipes, taken from Dr Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle, offer Regency-era tips for giving your lettuce an extra lease of life.

The first dressing is subtitled the ‘oxoleon’, a word of Hellenistic Greek origin that signifies a mixture of oil and vinegar. The term had fallen out of popular usage by the time The Cook’s Oracle was being compiled, but the archaism is easily explained: Kitchiner lifted both the recipe and its title from an earlier text, John Evelyn’s Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets (1699):

Kitchiner's oxoleon dressing owes much to Evelyn's recipe in his Discourse of Sallets of 1699

Kitchiner’s oxoleon dressing owes much to Evelyn’s recipe in his Discourse of Sallets of 1699

Dressing for a Salad (the oxoleon)

Take a good oyl olive, three parts of vinegar, lemon or orange juice one part, and steep  them in some skins of horseradish & a little salt. Some in a separate vinegar. Bruise a pod of ginny pepper and strain it on the other. Then add as much mustard as will lie on a half crown piece. Beat and mingle these well together with the yolks of two new laid eggs boiled hard, pouring it over your salad.

So faithful is Kitchiner to Evelyn’s work (or plagiaristic, depending on your outlook) that he even retains the wording ‘ginny pepper’. Guinea pepper is nothing more than an early term for Cayenne pepper, an ingredient which Kitchiner uses in a great number of his dishes. As indeed he does in our next recipe, where a dressing for cold meat is spiced up with a hot dash of Cayenne:

A dressing for cold meat or fish, transcribed into The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies from Kitchiner's Cook's Oracle

A dressing for cold meat or fish, transcribed into The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle

A Salad or Sauce for Cold Meat, Fish &c.

Pound together an ounce of scraped horseradish, half an ounce of salt, a tablespoonful of made mustard, four drachms of minced eshallots, half a drach of celery seed and half a ditto of Cayenne, adding gradually a pint of vinegar. Let it stand a week in a jar and then pass it through a sieve. The salad mixture much improved by a little jelly of cold meat

And finally we have a creamy, mustard vinaigrette, which can be sweetened or salted to taste:

This dressing with mustard and cream is the most indulgent out of the three. Any surprise that it's our favourite?

This dressing with mustard and cream is the most indulgent out of the three. Any surprise that it’s our favourite?

Boil a couple of eggs twelve minutes. Rub the yolks (when quite cold) through a sieve with a wooden spoon and mix them with a tablespoonful of cream, then add two of oil or melted butter. When well mixed, add by degrees a teaspoonful of salt or powdered lump sugar and the same of made mustard. When united, add three tablespl. of vinegar. Garnish with white of egg.

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4 thoughts on “Salad dressings for summer days

  1. It’s interesting that the last recipe gives the option of a teaspoonful of salt OR sugar, which I imagine would change the taste significantly. Yet they seem to be given equal weight in the recipe.

  2. Guinea pepper is more likely to be meleguetta pepper, aka grains of paradise, an African spice, relative of cardamon which comes in pods. GoP use starts to tail off in recipe books in the 17th&18thC along with things like long pepper but both can still be found listed on druggist and spice merchant lists well into the 19thC.

    The Spice Shop in Portobello http://www.thespiceshop.co.uk/
    or Sternberg’s http://www.steenbergs.co.uk/
    both carry Grains of Paradise and other hard to get spices used in Medieval & Early Modern cookery

  3. Pingback: History A'la Carte 10-10-13 - Random Bits of Fascination

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