My wife has fond memories of her mother making this salad for her and her family when she was growing up. Her grandfather always had a garden, so it’s probable the lettuce was home grown. I don’t remember having it that often back then, and for me it was a real treat whenever I did. My family didn’t even eat leaf lettuce all that much, since iceberg was the preferred green. At any rate, this wilted lettuce salad is her spin on a classic treatment for lettuce. And it is one of my favorite salad treatments.
These days, it’s me growing the lettuce. And except during the heat of summer, I usually have plenty on hand for salads. I always plant certain varieties of leaf lettuce with this salad in mind. Varieties like Black Seeded Simpson, Simpson Elite, Red Sails and New Red Fire all have large tender leaves that work well for wilting, but any nice lettuce will do. The slightly crinkled leaves of most leaf lettuces do serve to help the dressing cling to the leaves.
The origins of wilted lettuce are somewhat obscure, and experts differ in their opinions on the subject. Given the sweet and sour dressing, it reminds me of a German or Pennsylvania Dutch dish. And considering that our region in Southern Indiana had a lot of German immigrants, that makes sense why it is popular here. And that certainly fits right in with my wife’s family too.
This version of a classic salad has less fat and more sugar than other recipes. You can adjust the quantities to suit your own tastes. We usually have this as a side dish, and let the lettuce play a starring role. The salad is best made right before serving.