Anjuli’s grandmother, my mom, was born in 1910. She did not cook much until she married in 1940, as far as I know. She went through WWII as a wartime bride, exposed to rationing and culinary marvels like Scrapple and Spam. I was a baby boomer, born in ’47, so for me her cooking style was a product of the 50s. She delighted in post-war conveniences: plastic bags, frozen vegetables, cold soda, Tastykakes and Entenmann’s, en masse condiments like mayonnaise and ketchup, and keeping leftovers in the fridge (sometimes too long in my opinion). And she loved iceberg. Salads at home were invariably iceberg, tomatoes, carrots, onions and one of ten kinds of bottled dressing. The only exception to this rule was her wilted endive salad. She’d even make her own dressing. We always ate it as a main course because of the ample bacon and hard boiled eggs. I loved this salad for its heartiness, the texture of the curly, wilted endive, the sweet and sour tones of the dressing, and the lovely, crispy bacon. It satisfied all the tastes. It stood alone beautifully.
But I thought that the recipe was lost. I knew I didn’t have it and my dear mommy has been dead for over twenty years. Last fall I was visiting my brother Eric in Vermont and I told him how I was missing this salad. It had played a big role in my culinary memories of childhood, as it was the only really good salad she made. Helen, my sister-in-law, looked up and said, “Weez, I have her handwritten copy of the recipe. Do you want it?” “Yes, Yes Yes.” I toothily grinned and batted my eyes at Helen, hoping to look fetching and praying she would not change her mind. These family recipes are much sought after in my little clan. She handed it to me. There nestled in my hand lay an index card written in my Mom’s handwriting, whose script I remembered like it was yesterday. I was really quite moved. I started tearing up. I have been thinking about this recipe for about five years. I really had no clue what she actually did in a way where I could reasonably hope for success in reproducing it. To see that card, without even looking at the ingredients, brought her back to me. It brought me back to that cherished feeling of family, with the kitchen at the center of it all; her little kitchen with its icebox and porcelain sink and its black phone with a party line.
As it turns out, the card is more rough notes than a recipe. Still, it was a place to start. In January I decided to plant endive expressly so I could make this salad. And once it grew, I played around a little until I had the taste I remember from fifty plus years ago. -Weezie
Notes on ingredients: Mom would have used Gulden’s mustard and she would have used apple cider vinegar. I tried the apple cider vinegar and found it a little sharp but feel free to experiment; I did.
Mom would have used nitrite-free bacon and free range eggs not by choice, but because that’s what she could get. I did go out of my way to find these ingredients, and would suggest for you to try and do the same.
Wilted curly endive salad Serves 2
8 strips bacon cut into 1″ dice
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled
2 small heads of curly endive, 4 – 5 cups coarsely chopped (endive is neither escarole nor frisée , but frisée works just as well!)
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar (or combination of apple cider and balsamic 3:1)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon raw sugar
2 teaspoons Dijon-type mustard
Fry the bacon. Heat a medium-sized frying pan to medium-low. Fry the bacon to a medium brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels and set aside. Drain almost all of the bacon fat but leave enough to cover the bottom of the skillet.
Assemble the ingredients. Slice the hard boiled eggs in half; reserve the yolks for the dressing. Slice the whites and set aside. Cut the ends off the endive heads, wash, spin dry in a salad spinner and chop coarsely. Put the endive in a glass bowl. Add the egg whites. Cover with a plate.
Make the dressing. In a small bowl crush the egg yolks. Dilute the balsamic to 1/2 cup with water. Add to the yolks with the salt, sugar and mustard. Whisk until smooth. Add this mixture to the skillet and simmer for 5 minutes until reduced by half. Remove the plate from the bowl.
Toss, marinate, eat. Add the dressing and the bacon and replace the plate. Leave plated for 15 minutes, then remove the plate and toss. Eat immediately.