Salad ingredients have been available to mankind throughout history. However, it took millenniums to
bring together the two items that symbolize the salad to most people in today's world, the tomato and
lettuce. It required considerable time and effort to get Columbus off to discover the new world so that
the tomato would be taken from there and introduced to Europe.
The Greeks' name for lettuce was 'tridax' and our Greek travel writer Herodotus wrote of the Persian
Kings eating it in the Sixth Century BC. The Romans gave us our word for lettuce 'lactuca'.
That versatile monk, physician, author, traveler- linguist and food expert Rabelais is credited with
bringing lettuce to France in 1537. Possibly he should be considered father of the modern salad, not
Caesar Cardini who, in a Tijuana, Mexico restaurant in 1924, gave the world the Caesar Salad.
The tomato, native to the South American Andes, was probably first brought to Europe by Cortez.
Spanish cooks mixed it with olive oil, onions, and spices creating tomato sauces which became
entwined in Spanish cooking. Why it became known as the love apple is not clear, possibly language
slurs that occurred as the 'Moor's Apple' known in Spanish as "Pomi del Mori" became Pomi d'Or,
golden apples in Italian and when it got to France it was "Pomme d'amour". Popular in Spain and
Italy, the tomato was slow making friends in France and almost took forever to gain English
Some credit Napoleon III's wife for introducing many tomato dishes to France during the 1850's. She
undoubtedly popularized certain dishes but Napoleon Bonaparte's chef, during the Battle of Marengo
in 1800, is recorded to have served Napoleon a chicken dish sautéed in olive oil, with tomatoes,
mushrooms, spices and wine. He'd run out of butter and turned to creativeness, and olive oil, rather
than admit his inefficiency to Bonaparte.
The tomato had a lot of bad publicity, herbalists, doctors and many others wrote that it was
poisonous. There was some truth in this because it is a member of the nightshade family, which
included deadly belladonna, mandrake, and henband. The vines are toxic and that may have
contributed to the tomato's bad reputation. Introduced to England in 1596, it was sometime after
1752 before there was general acceptance of the tomato. However, by l711 ketchup named
Old-Blighly was being made from tomato juice, mushrooms, and other ingredients. Some believe the
name came from Malaysia or Singapore by way of English seamen who returned from there in the
eighteenth century with a sauce called 'kechap'.
American colonists retained the English hostility toward the tomato. It was preached against by
ministers, said to be poisonous by doctors, and slandered by popular writers. There were those who
recognized the tomato's worth. Thomas Jefferson was growing them in 1781, and in New Orleans they
were sold in the market. However their unpopularity lasted in the north until 1820 or 1830 (the dates
are disputed) when a Colonel Johnson marched up the courthouse steps in Salem, New Jersey and ate
a bushel basket of them. A crowd of two thousand assembled to watch him die, probably betting on
how many he would eat before the poison got him. Instead, the Colonel became a hero and was later
elected the city's mayor.
Botanists agree that the tomato is a fruit. The Supreme Court, to define whether fruit or vegetable, for
the imposition of import duties, in 1893 made an early political decision. It was declared a vegetable
when served in soups and with the main course but could be considered a fruit when eaten out of the
hand or as an appetizer.
Other items often found in salads, such as garlic, spring onions, parsley, celery have long histories
and are usually credited with the ability to enhance sexual prowess. Garlic, praised by Greeks,
Romans, and Middle Easterners alike, has also been referred to as that which "makes men wink, drink
and stink." Much the same can be said for onions although modern medical science has come to the
rescue of their reputations. Both are strong medicine for increasing the good HDL and reducing the
bad LDL found in cholesterol.
Parsley, thought to "grow for the wicked, but not the just" was worn by Greeks as garlands which they
also ate believing they could consume more wine without becoming intoxicated. Now parsley is known
to be rich in Vitamin E which modern medicine says is good for the libido.
The Chinese, Greeks and Spanish have all praised celery, and Madame Pompadour made a celery
soup that kindled her lovers' passions and helped keep King Louis XV attracted to her.
The French define a salad as made up of herbs, plants, vegetables, eggs, meat, fish seasoned with
oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, with or without other ingredients, which is a rather inclusive definition.
Brillat Savarin, French Magistrate, politician and well-known gastronome (1755-1826) who enjoyed
meat and had a method of serving it named after him, had little time for vegetables. However, he
spoke well of the salad as a dish that "freshens without, enfeebling and fortifies without irritating".
Whatever the ingredients of a salad, the dressing must blend with them. Oil and vinegar with spices is
tough to beat, and who can say that there is not something magical watching a French waiter mix
vinegar, mustard, pepper and oil and toss a lettuce salad?