Gardeners, have you had your first mess of delicate spring lettuces yet? Growing up, we children got our first taste of fresh-picked summer salads as soon as those tiny spatulate leaves of bib lettuce grew to finger length–Mom’s fingers, not ours. That first salad was never enough–just a few leaves of tender lettuce apiece, in Mom’s (Great Grannie to my grand-kids) tangy, milky, sweet and slightly sour dressing.
Mom and Dad grew an enormous vegetable garden every year. They grew it to feed us, of course, but they loved working in the soil, watching the plants grow, nourishing them along the way. I think they may even have enjoyed battling the weeds.
By late June, their gardens grew lush, verdant and full of good things to eat, chief among them, bib lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes and green beans. During the summer months, we children plucked fresh, ripe tomatoes from the vines and sucked their liquor fast, warmed from the sun, before we lost too much down our arms and onto our bare knees. Tomatoes were juicy back then. If we dropped one, even on the garden soil, it would splat juice up our legs.
Foraging up and down the rows, we noshed a veritable salad of tender young vegetables, grown in deep, nearly black soil, watered judiciously and sparingly. Bib lettuces grew close to the ground, their small leaves bright green, pale green and varicolored with deep ruby reds, veins of ocher and smudges of chocolaty brown. Mom taught me how to cut them with a paring knife, close but not too close, so they’d grow back, and to handle the leaves gently, so as not to bruise them, keeping them in a bunch.
We plunged the leaves into a bucket of salted water and watched for any baby slugs, snails and pill bugs we failed to see when picking. The crawlies, not liking the salt, quickly rose to the top, easy to skim off with lots of “Eeee-wwwws” and threats to put them down someone’s collar.
Meanwhile, Dad would have picked a mess of beans, my siblings and I would have gathered a bucket of tomatoes and cukes, as Dad called them, and Mom would be washing the mud off the tender green onions.
Today, with all my produce coming from the green grocer, I still give my greens and other goodies a good salt bath before we enjoy them, even though most of what I have to worry about is bacteria and only an occasional creepy-crawly.
Her veggies scrubbed and glowing, Mom would toss a crown of fresh dill weed over all, and we had all we needed for a succulent summer salad, drizzled with her thin sweet and sour dressing of milk, vinegar, sugar and mayonnaise.
That last was actually Miracle Whip, which was all I knew as mayonnaise until I was ten or twelve, when I discovered that some families used something called Best Foods instead. In their minds, Miracle Whip was for wimps. Me, I didn’t like the real stuff. If the jar label didn’t say Miracle Whip, it wasn’t mayo!
The first time an energetic young chef invited me to dinner and made real mayonnaise before my eyes, I discovered what I had missed all those years. First she made the mayo, expertly whipping the oil into the eggs in minutes, and gave me a taste. Yum! Then she made Hollandaise sauce to top lightly steamed fresh asparagus tips. Embarrassed, I told her I didn’t like Hollandaise sauce, couldn’t swallow it. Undaunted, she replied nonchalantly, not even looking up. “That’s because you’ve never had real Hollandaise sauce.” I giggled nervously, sure I’d gag, but willing to give it a try. Wow. It was all I could do to be polite and not pick up my plate and lick it clean. Goodbye Best Foods and Miracle Whip! But I never learned to make my own satisfactorily. Today I buy an organic bottle of mayonnaise, sometimes vegan, sometimes not, but always made with extra virgin olive oil. So much better than that stuff I grew up on.
Whew! Am I chatty today or what? So back to Mom’s–or if my grand-kids are reading this–to Great Grannie’s spring and summer garden dressing.
Mom used more or less mayo in her dressing, depending on the salad. Quite often, those first uber-tender spring greens got a thin drizzle of the stuff, with just a little mayo to help it stick to the greens. The taste was the thing–enough sweet, sour, salty, business to lightly dress those delicate lettuces, not so much to over-power them. For other salads, a fruit salad, say, or a potato salad, she’d thicken it up more, depending on how much mayo was in the jar at the time she made the salad.
So, for the grand-kids and anyone else who wants it, here’s Great Grannie’s all-purpose garden salad dressing, in a printable form so you can always find it.
Great Grannie's milky vinegar and sugar dressing
This is a nostalgic favorite that goes with lots of dishes. Mom always made this dressing for salads she picked fresh from the garden. I almost always have a container of it in the fridge–or did before we had to cut way back on sugar and dairy in our house. It’s easy enough to make vegan, though. Just use a vegan mayo and a creamy coconut milk or nut milk. (Make your own! You can see how I make organic coconut milk or cashew nut milk here.) I made the dressing in these photos with homemade almond milk. So good!
Drizzle this simple dressing over a tossed green salad, or pour it over a pasta or potato salad and mix well. Make it thicker and use it as a quick dip with crudites. Change the flavor with fresh dill, oregano, thyme, basil or mint leaves.
- 1/4 C whole milk or coconut or nut milk
- 1/4 C apple cider vinegar
- 2 -3 T raw sugar or 1 T refined sugar
- Dash salt
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 C Mayonnaise, regular or vegan, more or less, depending on how thick you need your dressing
- Fresh herbs of your choice (optional)
- Whisk all ingredients together until smooth.
- Taste and adjust vinegar, sugar and spices till you like it.
Store this dressing tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to one week.
This is a YayYay’s Kitchen original recipe. Please link back to this page if you base a recipe of your own on this one.
What favorite recipe can throw you back to days gone by?
This simple recipe is all it takes, as you can see, to send me instantly back to the loamy, fragrant gardens of my childhood, rich with earthworms and pill bugs, smelling of Earth and green leaves and leaf mold. What simple favorite recipes bring back happy memories in your life?