11 Mostly Forgotten Historical Salads (That We Probably Shouldn’t Bring Back)

Perfection Salad via @ladanzarabi on Instagram
Perfection Salad via @ladanzarabi on Instagram

Salad dates back to Roman times, when cold vegetables were seasoned with brine (salata means “salty” in Latin). Variations of the dish were around throughout the Medieval and early modern periods—Queen Mary of Scots reportedly enjoyed a combo of greens, celery root, chervil, truffles, and hard-boiled eggs with creamy mustard dressing—but it wasn’t until the 19th century that the leafy appetizer really took off as a fashionable course to serve. And that’s when folks started to, well, stretch the definition of the word salad, incorporating fruit, noxious weeds, and even popular candy bars. Here are some of history’s most peculiar (and, thankfully, largely forgotten) examples.

1. CELERY VICTOR

Dreamed up by Victor Hirtzler, the head chef at San Francisco’s historic St. Francis Hotel, and published in his 1910 cookbook of the hotel’s menus, this concoction called for lengths of celery to be simmered in chicken or veal stock and then chilled in a tarragon marinade/dressing. Hirtzler also created the Crab Louis, which appears in the same cookbook and was his real salad hit—it was amongst the first salads that could be considered a full meal. But it was his Celery Victor (which featured a veggie best used as an addition or garnish) that was once hailed “an American classic.” If you're up for it, Chowhound has an updated version that adds anchovies to the dressing.

2. DANDELION SALAD

To be fair, this one’s mostly only been forgotten Stateside, but it’s still somewhat current in France and other parts of Europe. The idea’s pretty simple: Go out into the yard and pick some dandelion greens (or buy them at a market, if you must), chop them up , then dress them with olive oil and balsamic. That’s it. The yellow flowers are perfectly edible as well, but it’s the peppery, arugula-esque leaves that seem to draw the salad’s fans in. Sometimes folks will throw a minced shallot or onion in there, or, in Martha Stewart’s case, maybe some garlic scapes.

3. COKE SALAD

The fad of congealed, gelatin-encased salads really exploded in the 1950s, with hundreds if not thousands of variations emerging. But the one of the weirdest jewels in the Jell-O salad crown is arguably Coke Salad. Once popular in the American South as a church or funeral potluck dessert, this sugary confection calls for a mixture of Coca-Cola and pineapple and cherry juices to be used in place of boiling water, to activate the gelatin. The carbonation in the soda sticks around in the finished product, for a very strange take on fruit salad that seems to pop and fizz in your mouth. HuffPo recommends this version, by “John’s Mom,” that also adds the Midwestern favorite cream cheese in the mix.

4. SUNBONNET BABY SALAD

First documented in a 1917 cookbook called A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, Sunbonnet Baby Salad involves a canned pear half, scooped side down, with a child’s facial features inscribed via cloves, blanched almonds, and strips of pimento, in the style of Mr. Potato Head. The kid’s hair is made of salad dressing, in the flavor and color of your choice. The whole thing is placed on a bed of lettuce, which is supposed to curl up around the pear-baby’s head, à la a sunbonnet, and then a pimento-strip bow is stuck under the chin. As FoodFerret explains in its recipe, “The expressions may be varied.”

5. CORONATION CHICKEN SALAD

When Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953, English food writer Rosemary Hume came up with this spin on a standard mayo-based chicken salad for the new queen’s coronation luncheon. Hume may actually have been inspired by a chicken salad prepared for Elizabeth’s grandpa, George V, for his silver jubilee in 1935: Jubilee Chicken was just cold, cooked, diced chicken with curry spices and mayonnaise, but Hume’s rendition added raisins, apricot purée, and a few other odds and ends. In 2002, the recipe was punched up again for the Queen’s own golden jubilee, with the addition of lime, ginger, and crème fraîche, and once more for her diamond jubilee in 2012, with mango and minced chiles. If you really want to celebrate the Queen's birthdays this year, try The New York Times's recipe—in accordance with the Queen's dietary preferences, it doesn't include garlic.

6. PERFECTION SALAD

In 1904, a Mrs. John E. Cook of New Castle, Pennsylvania, took third place in a recipe contest with this lemony, vinegary take on the molded Jell-O salad, winning a new sewing machine for her entry. Perfection Salad was a homemaking magazine favorite for decades thereafter, in various incarnations. The beauty of this dish seems to be that you can throw just about any of the usual salad suspects in there—cabbage, celery, carrots, olives, whatever week-old produce you find in your fridge—and it still looked (subjectively) attractive, shimmering at you from inside the savory gel. As Saveur mentions in its recipe, Perfection Salad was often served alongside grilled meats or fish; Mrs. Cook herself liked it with fried oysters. The original recipe calls for the molded salad to be diced and served with mayonnaise, “in cases made of red or green peppers.”

7. CANDLE SALAD

In one of the more far-fetched interpretations of the word, this vintage fruit “salad” is just half a banana stuck in a pineapple ring, with a cherry toothpicked to the top. Voila. (If you want to get fancy, some Candle Salads have whipped cream or mayo dribbling down one side, representing a rivulet of melting wax.) Debuting sometime in the 1910s, this is perhaps one of history’s more controversial salads, not only for its, ahem, suggestive appearance, but also owing to the fact that there’s very little intermingling of ingredients. Someone just took three things and placed them near each other to form a shape. It’s not especially clear on how people are supposed to go about eating this either. Candle Salad’s greatest claim to fame is probably being the butt of separate TV segments by Ellen DeGeneres and Amy Sedaris, but if you really want to make it, Cooks.com will walk you through the process.

8. CHEESE SLAW

The outback town of Broken Hill, in the Australian state of New South Wales, is generally cited as the birthplace of this altered translation of coleslaw, although some say the recipe first appeared in a 1939 newspaper in Townsville, nearby in Queensland. Broken Hill’s residents will push back against anyone who says so, though, claiming that the Townsville recipe of the same name was, in fact, totally different and that BH is the home of legit cheese slaw, full stop. It’s true that the recipes vary, but the common denominators seem to be that you take some coleslaw and swap out the cabbage for cheese, usually blue, and that carrots need to make an appearance. Folks down under use it for everything from a hot dog topping to the innards of a grilled cheese sandwich.

9. SNICKERS BAR SALAD

What won’t the Midwest turn into a salad? Once a staple of potlucks in Iowa and the like, this alleged salad is technically more of a pudding, or maybe an advanced cake frosting. The main ingredient is either whipped cream or Cool Whip, into which broken-up Snickers bars and marshmallow cream or mini-marshmallows are added. The occasional inclusion of Granny Smith apples seem to be the only thing that might bump it up to fruit salad status, and they aren’t even required. The assembly process is pretty self explanatory, but Cooks.com has your back if you need it spelled out.

10. SEAFOAM SALAD

Initially exclusive to Woolworth lunch counters, seafoam salad’s popularity surged in the early 20th century, as the retailer’s stores proliferated in number and the dessert spread to cafeterias and buffets across America. In the classic, cream cheese, canned pears, and maraschino cherries were suspended in lime Jell-O and capped with whipped cream. Orange Jell-O was sometimes subbed for lime, even though that made it decidedly not seafoam-esque. Mayo and nuts both made appearances in some versions, but AllRecipes breaks down the most basic recipe for your retro summer dinner parties.

11. FROG-EYE SALAD

This one’s not been completely forgotten yet, but it’s rarely found outside of the Mormon Corridor (i.e., Utah, western Wyoming, and eastern Idaho). Here, acini di pepe (“grains of pepper”) pasta, which is similar to couscous and represents the eponymous frog’s eyes, are combined with Cool Whip and, somewhat bizarrely, beaten eggs cooked with pineapple juice. Food.com has the full 30-minute recipe, which includes some canned fruit and marshmallows. Frog-eye salad is particularly special in that it seems to be one of the only conflations of pasta salad and dessert salad around, so it presumably works as both an appetizer and nightcap.

Everything You Need to Know About Activated Charcoal

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iStock

Activated charcoal is everywhere. Touted in alternative health circles as a versatile treatment for almost anything that ails you, its proponents claim that it clears up your acne, treats inflammation caused by "toxic mold," draws out the venom from a snake bite, eases a hangover, halts your farts, removes "toxins" from your body, and brightens your pearly whites.

But there's little to no evidence for these claims. Though charcoal has a very long history as a folk remedy—ancient Egyptians used it as a treatment for "odorous vapors from putrefying wounds"—for the past century or so, its medical use has primarily been in emergency rooms to treat overdose and poisoning cases. In most cases there just aren't any clinical studies to test its efficacy for any other use. Not only that, but experts who spoke with Mental Floss caution that these treatments might come with added risks, too.

WHAT IS "ACTIVATED CHARCOAL"?

Activated charcoal isn't quite the same thing as the briquettes you use in your grill. Though they're both made of residue left from burning carbon-rich organic materials like wood, peat, or coconut shells, activated charcoal is oxygenated, which makes it far more porous. To activate the charcoal, manufacturers use steam or hot air to erode its internal surface [PDF], which increases the outside surface area along with its adsorption rate—the capacity to bind materials to a surface. Because of those adsorption abilities, charcoal has earned a reputation as a kind of bodily super-cleanser.

When you ingest activated charcoal, it works as a "gastrointestinal decontaminant," attracting various chemicals from your stomach and digestive tract, and then eliminating them from the body. That's why it's so helpful in cases of poisoning or drug overdose: It adsorbs the dangerous substance so it doesn't enter your bloodstream, then simply passes right on through—and out of—your system.

FROM E.R. TO GOOP

Activated charcoal had been popular in certain health food circles for years when, in late 2014, Gwyneth Paltrow's website Goop featured a "charcoal lemonade" sold by a Californian juice bar on a list of the best juice cleanses for "a good old-fashioned detox." Today, the substance can be found in everything from facial masks and odor-dampening comforters to a wide range of food and drink: Chefs are using activated charcoal to create pitch-black cakes, cocktails, pizza crust, and ice cream that's taking Instagram by storm.

The tiny bit of activated charcoal in the occasional cocktail probably won't do any damage—but it's not a good idea to take the substance on a regular basis, according to Rachele Pojednic, a professor of nutrition at Simmons College. "When you ingest it, you can't target what it's going to interact with," she says, "so if you’re on certain medications, you need to be really careful."

Some have never been on board with the stuff, including the FDA and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which recently started enforcing in restaurants a long-standing ban on activated charcoal. The agency—following FDA guidelines—considers it an "adulterated food."

IN CASE OF POISONING …

Aside from treatment for an overdose or poisoning, you don't need to take anything to "detox" your body: not a supplement, not a juice, not a soup. Nothing. That's what your liver is for.

"There's really no data to show that [activated charcoal] is going to do anything other than remove some pretty high-level ingested toxins" like the ones found in cases of poisoning or overdose, Pojednic says.

It's also dubious that activated charcoal can cure a hangover, as some alternative health practitioners recommend. "You feel a hangover because you're really dehydrated," she tells Mental Floss. "There's nothing in your system that needs to be extracted." While you might feel better after taking it, Pojednic says that's most likely because your hangover went away over time.

There are some risks associated with ingesting activated charcoal, too. Thanks to its adsorption abilities, charcoal can also take out all of the good chemicals in your system, including nutrients and the active ingredients in certain medications (like antidepressants) if taken around the same time.

BRUSH YOUR TEETH BLACK?

One of the most common products you'll find activated charcoal in is toothpaste; its advocates claim it whitens teeth. About a year ago, John Brooks, DDS, a dentist and researcher at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, found himself getting questions from clinicians and students wondering what to tell their patients about activated charcoal toothpaste. He and two other professors reviewed the scientific literature and found that there's little evidence to support the claims of charcoal toothpastes because they haven't been tested. Brooks tells Mental Floss, "None of these charcoal toothpastes have undergone the rigors of scientific testing."

And, again, there are potential risks. While it's possible these toothpastes could whiten your teeth in the short term, they're so highly abrasive that they're likely to remove the enamel from your teeth too, which means your teeth won't stay white for long. Brooks also worries about patients regularly swishing known carcinogens—like silica and bentonite clay, which some charcoal toothpastes contain—around in their mouths. Moreover, he says, charcoal could potentially interfere with beneficial toothpaste ingredients, like fluoride.

IN THEORY, IT COULD HELP YOUR SKIN

The one cosmetic benefit of activated charcoal might be found in skincare products—maybe. As chemist Michelle Wong writes, "There isn't any good data on whether or not it works, but theoretically, it could work." It's possible activated charcoal's adsorption abilities could reach into your pores, pulling out the dirt and oils that get trapped there. But these products have not been rigorously tested, so we can't be certain about their efficacy. Wong also points out that activated charcoal typically takes several hours to have an effect, whereas most charcoal skincare products are applied for mere minutes.

The activated charcoal trend seems to be holding strong, despite the lack of evidence for its health claims. So eat that pitch-black ice cream every once in a while if you like, but don't count on it to improve your health.

Does Washing Your Fruits and Vegetables Really Do Anything?

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iStock

Washing produce is one of those habits that some people follow religiously and others shrug off altogether. If you're someone who struggles to find the motivation to cook in the first place, you might fall into the latter group. But cleaning your fruits and vegetables at home isn't just an outdated precaution: As Popular Mechanics reports, a thorough rinse could mean the difference between a meal that nourishes you and one that leaves you sick.

Produce is one common carrier of norovirus—a foodborne viral infection that triggers such symptoms as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. There's no way to know whether your lettuce is contaminated with harmful bacteria before it hits your plate, but cleaning it with plain tap water does make it safer to eat. According to USA Today, rinsing produce is effective enough to remove 90 percent of the pathogens left on it by the growing, harvesting, and shipping process. Rinsing is also a good way to remove any of the visible matter you don't want eat, such as grit and soil.

Cleaning your fruits and vegetables is definitely an improvement over eating them straight from your crisper drawer, but be warned that this isn't a foolproof way to avoid food poisoning. Water won't remove all the microbes living on the surface of your food, and even an extremely thorough rinse isn't enough to make produce contaminated with potentially deadly bacteria like E. coli safe to eat. But that doesn't mean the risk outweighs the benefits of including produce in your diet.

If you have a pile of veggies that need to be prepared for dinner, the best way to make them safer for consumption is to rinse them under cold water and rub them in a bowl of water, starting with the cleanest items and progressing to the produce that's more soiled. Give all the food a final rinse before moving it to the cutting board. Peeling the outside of your produce and cooking it when possible is another effective way to kill or remove stubborn bacteria.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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