[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]


“Sayings, Wise and Otherwise,” (also in the “The Sayings of Dr. Bushwhacker and Other Wise Men”) by Frederic S. Cozzens; American Book Exchange, New York; 1880; pp. 39-42.



A Peep Into a Salad Bowl.

“M Y dear, learned friend,” said the Doctor, “a Bowl of Lettuce is the Venus of the dinner table! It rises upon the sight cool, moist, and beautiful, like the imprudent lady coming out of the sea, sir! And to complete the image, sir, neither should be dressed too much!”

When Dr. Bushwhacker had issued this observation, he drew himself up in a very portly manner, as if he felt called upon to defend himself as well as his image. Then, after a short pause, he broke — silence.

Lactuca, or lettuce, is one of the most common vegetables in the world; it has been known, sir, from time immemorial; it was as common, sir, on the tables of the ancients, as it is now, and was eaten in the same way, sir, dressed with oil and vinegar. We get, sir from Athenæus some idea of the condiments used: not all of these contributed to make a salad, but it shows they had the materials: —

“‘Dried grapes, and salt, and eke new wine
   Newly boiled down, and asafœtida, (pah!)
   And cheese, and thyme, and sesame, (open sesame,)
   And nitre too, and cummin-seed,
   And sumach, honey, and majorum,
40    And herbs, and vinegar, and oil,
   And sauce of onions, mustard, and capers mixed,
   And parsley, capers too, and eggs,
   And lime, and cardimums, and th’ acid juice
   Which comes from the green fig-tree; besides lard,
   And eggs and honey, and flour wrapped in fig-leaves,
   And all compounded in one savory force-meat.’

They had pepper too. Ophelian says: —

“ ‘Pepper from Libya take, and frankincense.’

So, sir, if you had dined with Alcibiades, no doubt he would have dressed a salad for you with Samian oil, and Sphettian vinegar, sir, pepper from Libya, and salt from — ah — hm —”

“Attica, doctor.”

“Attica, my learned friend; thank you. Now, sir, there was one thing the ancients did with lettuce which we do not do. They boiled it, sir, and served it up like asparagus; so, too, did they with cucumbers — a couple of indigestible dishes they were, no doubt. Lettuce, my dear friend, should have a quick growth, in the first place, to be good; it should have a rich mould, sir, that it may spring up quickly, so as to be tender and crisp. Then, sir, it should be new-plucked, carried from the garden a few minutes before it is placed upon the table. I would suggest a parasol, sir, to keep the leaves cool until it reaches the shadow of within-doors. Then, sir, it must be washed — mind you — ice-water! Then place it upon table — what Corinthian ornament more perfect and symmetrical. Now, sir, comes the important part, the DRESSING. ‘To dress a salad,’ says the learned Petrus 41 Petronius, ‘you must have a prodigal to furnish the oil, a counselor to dispense the salt, a miser to dole out the vinegar, and a madman to stir it.’ Commit that to memory, my learned friend.”

“It is down, Doctor.” (Tablets.)

“Let me show you,” continued Dr. Bushwhacker, “how to dress a salad. Take a small spoonful of salt, thus: twice the quantity of mustard — ‘Durham’ — thus: incorporate: pour a slender stream of oil from the cruet, so: gently mix and increase the action by degrees,” (head of hair in commotion, and face brilliant in color;) “dear me! it is very warm — now, sir, oil in abundance, so; a dash of vinegar, very light, like the last touches of the artist; and, sir, we have the dressing. Now, take up the lettuce by the stalk! Break off the leaves — leaf by leaf — shake off the water, replace it in the salad-bowl, pepper it slightly, pour on the dressing, and there you have it, sir.”

“Doctor, is that orthodox?”

“Sir,” replied Dr. Bushwhacker, holding the boxwood spoon in one hand and the boxwood fork in the other; “the eyes of thirty centuries are looking down upon me. I know that Frenchmen will sprinkle the lettuce with oil until it is thoroughly saturated; then, sir, a little pepper; then, sir, salt or not, as it happens; then, sir, vinaigre by the drop — all very well. Our people, sir, in the State of New Jersey, will dress it with salt, vinegar, and pepper — perfectly barbarous, my learned friend; then comes 42 the elaborate Englishmen; and our Pennsylvania friend, the Rev. Sidney Smith,* sir, gives us a recipe in verse, that shows how they do it there, and at the same time, exhibits the deplorable ignorance of that very peculiar people. I quote from memory, sir: —

“‘Two large potatoes, passed through kitchen sieve
   Smoothness and softness to the salad give;
   Of mordant mustard add a single spoon,
   Distrust the condiment that bites too soon,
   But deem it not, Lady of herbs, a fault
   To add a double quantity of salt.
   Four times the spoon with oil of Lucca crown,
   And twice with vinegar procured from town;
   True flavor needs it, and your poet begs
   The pounded yellow of two well-boiled eggs.
   Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl,
   And, scarce suspected, animate the whole.
   Then lastly in the flavored compound toss
   One magic spoonful of anchovy sauce.
   O Great and glorious! O herbaceous treat!
   ’T would tempt the dying anchorite to eat;
   Back to the world he’d turn his weary soul.
   And plunge his fingers in the Salad Bowl!’

Now, sir, I have tried that, and a compound more execrable is not to be thought of. No, sir! Take some of my salad, and see if you do not dream afterwards of the Greek mythology.”


*  This is probably a subtle bit of sarcasm. Sidney Smith, is more usually spelled Sydney Smith. He was from England not Pennsylvania. This poem is often misattributed and the true origin and publication date can only be easily found online in Sallets, by Alice Ross, The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles, July 2001. He was an Anglican Clergyman and his poem, often much mis-attributed, seems to have been first written in 1796, under the title, “An Herb Sallad for the Tavern Bowl.” Who says the best scholarly work is only found in university publications?

This poem, quoted from memory, is generally accurate but not quite, as Dr. B. warns. The verse, as printed in Joe Miller’s Jest Book, [a salutary and sickening feat of American plagiarism and copyright violation] was stolen whole-hog from Mark Lemon’s Jest Book. This book is partially online on this site. Jest MX gives:

TO make this condiment your poet begs
The pounded yellow of two hard boiled eggs;
Two boiled potatoes, passed through kitchen-sieve,
Smoothness and softness to the salad give;
Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl,
And, half-suspected, animate the whole.
Of mordant mustard add a single spoon,
Distrust the condiment that bites too soon;
But deem if not, thou man of herbs, a fault,
To add a double quantity of salt.
And lastly, o’er the flavored compound toss
A magic soup-spoon of anchovy sauce.
O green and glorious! — O herbaceous treat!
’T would tempt the dying anchorite to eat;
Back to the world he’d turn his fleeting soul,
And plunge his fingers in the salad-bowl!
Serenely full, the epicure would say,
“Fate cannot harm me, I have dined to-day!”


[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]