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If you’re after a dish with a serious society pedigree, you really can’t go past the esteemed Waldorf salad. As with most iconic dishes, its provenance is murky. One theory is that it was created by the Waldorf Lunch System, an early 20th-century lunchroom chain whose logo, at one time, was an apple.
Conventional wisdom, however, has it that the dish was created for a society supper for 1500 guests at New York City’s Waldorf Hotel in 1893 (a precursor to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, which opened in 1931).
Credit for the salad’s creation is given to Oscar Tschirky, the hotel’s maître d’, a man apparently held in high esteem by the society types who frequented the hotel. But despite his standing and the fact that the salad became a staple in restaurants and hotel dining rooms, early opinions on the dish weren’t unanimously positive. The New Yorker’s food editor at the time, Sheila Hibben, was vocal in her disapproval, stating that Tschirky’s combination of apples and mayonnaise “bred the sorry mixture of sweet salads” and steered the American housewife in the wrong culinary direction.
In its original form, the recipe was very brief. It appeared in Tschirky’s book The Cook Book by ‘Oscar’ of the Waldorf, and instructed simply: “Peel two raw apples and cut them into small pieces, say about half an inch square, also cut some celery the same way, and mix it with the apple. Be very careful not to let any seeds of the apples be mixed with it. The salad must be dressed with a good mayonnaise.” The now ubiquitous walnuts were added later, as was the custom of presenting the salad on a bed of lettuce.
We’ve lightened it all up a little. The lettuce bed becomes a tumble of radicchio and witlof leaves, adding a slight bitter note and colour contrast. Apple and celery remain, of course, and as for the mayonnaise, we concur with Oscar. Whip up a batch of your own and this is one salad that can’t be beaten.