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Salad Dressing

Learn about this recipe from our historic foodways staff, then try it at home

Although salad is known to us year round, it was seasonal in early America and was served between the main meal and the dessert offerings, not as an appetizer. This version has a mustard/vinegar dressing that gives a nice bite to a cool and crisp summer greens salad.

18th Century

To have this delicate dish in perfection, the lettuce, pepper grass, chervil, &c. should be gathered early in the morning, nicely picked, washed and laid in cold water, which will be improved by adding ice; just before dinner is ready to be served, drain the water from your salad, cut it into a bowl, giving the proper proportions of each plant; prepare the following mixture to pour over it: boil two fresh eggs ten minutes, put them into water to cool, then take the yelks in a soup plate, pour on them a table spoonful of cold water, rub them with a wooden spoon until they are perfectly dissolved; then add two spoonsful of oil: when well mixed, put in a teaspoonful of salt, one of powdered sugar, and one of made mustard; when all these are united and quite smooth, stir in two tablespoonsful of common, and two of tarragon vinegar; pour it over the salad, and garnish the top with the whites of the eggs cut into rings, and lay around the edge of the bowl young scallions, they being the most delicate of the onion tribe.

— Randolph, Mary, “The Virginia Housewife,” 1827.

21st Century


N.B. — Since it may be harder to get some salad greens than others the following ingredients will serve as close to Mary’s recipe as possible.

  • 2 small heads of Tennis Ball Lettuce
  • 1 small bunch of fresh Parsley
  • 1 small bunch of fresh Watercress
  • 1 small head of curly Endive
  • 1 small bunch of Scallions or Spring Onions
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • Cold Water
  • 2 Tbsp. Salad Oil (Olive or Canola)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. grainy mustard
  • 2 Tbsp. White Vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. Tarragon Vinegar


  1. Hard boil your eggs and set them aside in cold water.
  2. Separate the leaves of the lettuce and endive, trim your parsley and cress stalks from the leaf sprigs and wash them thoroughly in cold water.
  3. Drain your greens well and coarse cut the lettuce and endive.
  4. By handfuls layer your salad greens on a large plate starting with the lettuce on the bottom, then endive, cress and parsley. Make each layer a little smaller than the previous to show a layering effect.
  5. Shell your hardboiled eggs and cut them in half by the middle, not the length. Gently remove the yolk so the white remains in two halves.
  6. Put the egg yolks in a medium bowl and with a tablespoon of cold water mash them gently with a wooden spoon until dissolved
  7.  Add the oil, salt, sugar, mustard and the two vinegars to the egg yolks and blend thoroughly with the spoon.
  8. Pour the dressing over the greens as evenly as possible.
  9. Slice the egg whites in rings and circle them around the middle center of the salad.
  10. Chop of the long green parts of the scallions (leave a little green stalk on them) and slice them length-wise and place them around the outside of the egg whites. Ready to serve!

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