My mother managed a large household in a small house on a tight budget. She had five children within a decade during the 1950s. Armed with her Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, she prepared dinner every evening for a table of seven and had it ready by the time Dad came home from work. Diet and meal recommendations in the US at that time were meat, starch, vegetable. The food pyramid was yet to be invented, but family traditions provided the same guidance.
Our family dinners were always accompanied by a green salad: iceberg lettuce, carrots, celery and tomatoes, tossed into a large bowl and passed around the table for us to fill our individual plates or salad bowls. My mother’s care in stretching her self-imposed grocery budget resulted in a few interesting dinner rules, one of them being that no one was permitted to take more than two slices of tomato in their salad portion. (Another consequence of her frugality was that frozen orange juice was diluted with an additional measure of water, permitting us all to have a full juice glass at breakfast).
There was only one option for dressing the salad. My mother would never consider buying those expensive bottled dressings because my dad could make a French-like salad dressing at home. We would often watch him do this just before dinner. A bottle would be fitted with a funnel, into which he would deliver various amounts of spices from the small spice jars kept on a lazy susan in the cupboard. It was quantitatively uncalibrated; he’d just shake some into the funnel, give the lazy susan a turn, and see what else was available to add to the mix. He would then add ketchup, followed by vinegar, oil, and water. On occasion he would add drops of Worcestershire or lemon juice. The bottle would then be capped and vigorously shaken to mix the ingredients into a tart and flavorful concoction that would eventually separate back out to something clearish floating over something reddish. Shaking to remix the dressing before putting it on our salad was part of the dinner ritual as we passed the bottle around the table.
We all grew up with the understanding that dinner was always accompanied by a tossed salad, and there was only one dressing for it—Dad’s. Over time of course, we grew up and left home and were forced to explore the commercial options for salad dressings. They always seemed to come up short- too sweet or too thick or not enough tang. There was always some deficiency compared to Dad’s. Later on, at extended family gatherings we would insist that he bring his dressing to provide an option at the salad station. At some point, we pressured him to write down how to make it so that we could, in principle, reproduce it.
He yielded to that pressure. To somehow quantify the arbitrary shakes into the funnel must have been an interesting exercise for him; it took a few iterations before he was satisfied. He recorded his measures and supplemented them with an elaborate procedure to put them together. This is not the technique I watched as a kid (which was quite simple– just shake the bottle), but the recipe at least gives a glimpse of how he thought it should be done.
I recently encountered that recipe and made a few batches of Tod’s Homemade Salad Dressing. It was close, but did not match exactly my long-ago fond memories of it. On the other hand, there may not be anything that would match those memories.
Realizing that perfect reproduction was impossible, I made an adaptation that scales the recipe to fit a standard size bottle and utilizes only two distinct measuring tools. I invite you to try it. Feel free to make any modifications you think might improve on it. Dad would.
Tod’s Homemade Salad Dressing
Thor’s variation, using only two measures and fitting in a 16-oz bottle.
1 tsp celery salt/ground celery seed
1 tsp onion salt/onion powder
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp salt (fill the tsp measure halfway)
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp lemon pepper
1 cup vinegar, in two ½ cup parts
½ cup ketchup
¼ cup oil (fill the ½ cup measure halfway)
¼ cup water
Add the spices to the bottle.
Add ½ cup of vinegar and shake to dissolve spices in the vinegar.
Add the ketchup, probably using a funnel. Shake to mix.
Add the oil, rinsing the ketchup through the funnel. Shake.
Add the remaining vinegar, rinsing the oil through the funnel. Shake.
Add the water.
Lower calorie option: omit the oil, increase the water.
Other optional ingredients to consider: Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, garlic…