“Summer produce and winter produce are like third cousins. They’re distant relatives,” my grandmother always began whenever she explained why she never cooked from the Fannie Farmer cookbook she had received as a gift.
In the “Boston Cooking School Cook Book,” Farmer’s self-described “scientific” approach based on unchanging precise measurements may have offered a welcome dose of consistency to family cooks rushing to prepare quick meals or kitchen rookies lacking confidence in their ingredient appraisals, but Granny said she kept it only as an instructional piece about how year-round measurements produced standardized “boring” food.
Thumbing through my 1918 edition recently, I understood why Granny considered the book, first published in 1908, as a “setback for delicious home cooking.” Farmer’s advice about lettuce describes it as valuable “during the winter and spring when other green vegetables in the market command a high price.” She quotes some cooks as shunning onions as “objectionable on account of the strong odor they impart to the breath.”
Granny, who loved mushrooms, paid tribute to seasonal lettuce, tomatoes and onions with this late-summer wedge salad she adapted from a recipe shared by her Greek neighbors in the Mobile, Alabama neighborhood known as “Down the Bay.”
1/2 head garden Iceberg lettuce
4 cups grape tomatoes, halved
1 pint sliced button mushroom, broken into
12 or more pitted kalamata olives, halved, use -pimento-stuffed green olives, if desired
1/4 to 1/2 cup Caramelized Onions and Garlic, -recipe follows
1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
Coarse salt and pepper to taste
Slice about 1 inch of ribbon-thin lettuce strips from the cut iceberg half, separating to measure about 1 1/2 to cups of thin strips. Cut remaining chunk into three equal wedges. Set aside.
Place the lettuce strips, tomato halves, mushroom pieces and olives in a medium bowl. Top with 3 to 4 tablespoons caramelized onions and garlic. Set aside. Whisk together the vinegar and olive oil. Add to the vegetables; toss. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
To serve, place lettuce wedge on a plate. Equally divide the salad among the wedges. Drizzle with more balsamic vinegar and garnish with fresh herb sprigs, if desired. Makes three servings.
To make Caramelized Onions and Garlic: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Chop four medium onions and into small pieces or slivers. Separate 1 head of garlic into peeled cloves. Place onions and garlic in an oiled cast iron skillet. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Toss with your hands to coat onions and garlic cloves with oil. Cover skillet with foil. Roast 12 minutes; remove foil, and stir with a wooden spoon. Cover; return to oven. Cook 25 minutes; stir. Repeat, stirring every 15 minutes, until onions and garlic mixture is a medium golden brown, about 1 hour total. Remove from oven; stir. Uncover. Roast 8 to 10 more minutes until mixture is a deep golden brown. Stir; set aside to cool completely before adding to salad. Refrigerate leftover caramelized onions and garlic in a food storage bag up to a week.
Donna Pierce is a 2015 recipient of a Harvard Nieman Foundation Visiting Fellowship who is currently working on a cookbook about historic Black recipes and cooks, She is the former Assistant Food Editor and Test Kitchen Director for the Chicago Tribune and Contributing Editor for Upscale Magazine.
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