I’ve said more than once that my grandmother was my biggest influence where food and cooking are concerned. When I was a child my dad was a long-haul truck driver and my mom worked a full-time job as well. My brother, sister, and I stayed with our grandparents until our mom got home and many nights we ate dinner there too….on weekdays as well as on the weekends. Up to the age of fourteen (when my grandmother passed away) I have as many memories from their house as I do at my parents’ house.
I can picture myself sitting in their dining room as if I just ate dinner there last night. Stubby green carpet, gigantic dark wood table. I’m sitting at one end of the table, my grandmother at the other end, my grandfather next to me seated such that he could see the television that was always playing. ABC’s World News Tonight (with Peter Jennings) during the week while we ate roasts, stews, spaghetti, sloppy joes.
On the weekends my grandfather did most of the cooking….Saturday it was hamburgers and HeeHaw, with the hamburger patties that, as I’ve told you before, started as uniform balls of meat that got pressed into uniform patties and stacked between waxed paper pieces, while my grandmother cut the corners off the squares of American cheese so they’d fit perfectly onto the amazingly uniform patties. The burgers got grilled, the cheese melted just right, and we ate our perfect burgers (on Colonial Buns, no doubt) with toppings taken from huge platters of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, standard toppings, Ore-Ida fries (consistency, right?).
Sunday nights were 60 Minutes. Steaks. Baked potatoes. And salad. This salad I never learned to appreciate as a child. I was a dumb kid. Many of them are (no offense to anyone whose child is a picky eater…but how many of you like things that you swore you hated as a kid and now you look back and say, “I was so dumb.”??????). My grandfather made this salad when his children were children. And he was still making it when his children’s children were children. I want to keep it going, an homage to a man who was larger to life than me.
My grandfather joined the Army Air Corps during WWII at the age of 17…my great-grandmother gave him permission after he threatened to lie about his age. He spent his entire career as a pilot…flying a B-17 on D-Day….flying in the Berlin Airlift as well as flying during Korea and Vietnam….eventually sitting at the helm of Air Force One and Air Force Two in the Kennedy/Johnson area. He designed the cockpit of the AWACS. You can’t make this stuff up. This man lived life. He served his country for 30 years and couldn’t have been prouder of his service….and we couldn’t be prouder of all of his accomplishments. When he retired in the early seventies he moved the family to Soddy-Daisy (my grandmother was from here), my parents met, and the rest is history.
Grandfather in his dress blues…in front of Air Force Two.
The grandfather that I knew loved to work in his garden. Cucumbers and tomatoes are the main things I remember. They had a gigantic yard and he’d ride his mower all up and down the huge hill. He had bushy eyebrows (which I do believe all seven of his grandchildren inherited…seriously, couldn’t we all just get his brilliant sense of direction?) and wore his cap a little too high on his head. He made inappropriate jokes when we were older and made me and my cousin Brooke (both college-age at the time) cover our heads and squeal with embarrassment.
That’s me and my cousin Brooke with Grandfather in his green chair.
My grandfather passed away when I was 21, just months away from my engagement, less than a year away from earning my college degree. I felt like I didn’t breathe for two weeks. When I was alone I felt like I was in some indie movie with weird camera angles and music closing in on you. The music was Pink Floyd’s “Learning to Fly”, which we played at his funeral (I also read High Flight, a poem that hung in his house, and somehow managed not to break down), which I played on a loop for probably a month straight. To this day, that song often evokes ugly tears.
Grandfather took me and Brooke to the Grand Canyon after her high school graduation. She took this picture of us there…
My grandfather always made this salad in the same gigantic, dark wooden bowl, and he always served it in the same dark wooden serving bowls…..bowls that sit in my cupboard as I type this. Some traditions should never die. My dad and my aunt both remember this salad as one of their favorite food experiences, and just as they used to fight over the ends of my granny’s batter bread, the two of them would consume the majority of this salad themselves. When my sister-in-law asked me to make a salad for my in-laws’ birthday dinner, this salad occurred to me immediately…sharing my family memories with Philip’s family. I hope they can appreciate how much love is behind this salad, and, probably, how many tears went into it.
|Prep time||8 hours|
|By author||Eugene Thomas (my grandfather)|
- 2 celery stalks (cut into 1/4 inch dice)
- 3 green onions (cut thinly on the diagonal)
- radishes (thinly sliced, to taste (I used 5))
- 1 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper (cut into 1/4 inch dice)
- 1/4 teaspoon each of celery salt, onion salt, and garlic salt (or use garlic powder & onion powder plus 1/4 teaspoon of salt-I didn't have onion or garlic salt)
- 1 head of iceberg lettuce or 2 hearts of romaine
- 1 Large tomato (diced)
- 1 avocado (cut into chunks (optional))
- red wine vinegar
- neutral tasting oil (My grandfather used vegetable oil; I use grapeseed. You could also use canola.)
- salt & pepper (to taste)
"Prep time" includes several hours of inactive time when the vegetables are marinating in the refrigerator.
|The morning prior to serving the salad, combine the cut green onions, celery, pepper, and radishes with the celery, garlic, and onion salt. Toss to thoroughly combine. Cover and refrigerate until time to make the salad (the salt will draw the juices out of the cut vegetables).|
|When you are ready to serve the salad, cut the lettuce into bite-sized pieces. Rinse and dry thoroughly and place into the serving bowl. Add the marinated vegetables, tomato, and avocado.|
|Add oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste and toss thoroughly (I just keep tasting the salad and adding things until I like the flavor).|