An Apple-Watercress Salad with a San Francisco-French Twist

I’ve previously written about Victor Hirtzler’s prune soufflé and his strawberry omelette. The flamboyant celebrity chef, who presided over the elegant Hotel St. Francis dining room in San Francisco for two decades early in the 20th century, was also acclaimed for his salads. He named several of them after famous guests who frequented his restaurant, including a Salad Lillian Russell, featuring grapefruit, which honored one of the most popular singers and actresses of that era.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I included that and three other of Hirtzler’s salad recipes in Vintage California Cuisine, along with 22 other recipes from his 1910 cookbook. Since I have access to an unlimited supply of wild watercress, from a spring next to a friend’s New Jersey farmhouse, I recently served his Watercress and Apple Salad at a dinner party. Everyone loved it. The sweet apples are a perfect counterpoint to the peppery watercress, and the French-born Hirtzler’s French Dressing, a vinaigrette spiked with mustard and paprika, infused the salad with another layer of flavors. It is exotic yet easy to throw together. And given its provenance, it’s an interesting conversation piece.

Watercress and Apple Salad

Clean the cress, wash and let it cool in the ice box. When ready to serve, mix the cress with thin slices of apple, or else mince the apple very coarsely. Add French dressing and serve at once. If allowed to stand, the oil will quickly wilt the cress, making it look very unpalatable.

French Dressing

One-half a tablespoonful of salt, a pinch of pepper, two tablespoonsful of olive oil and one of white wine vinegar. Mix all together and stir several minutes. To this may be added, if taste requires, a pinch of paprika, and the mixing bowl may be rubbed with a clove of garlic. A little mustard may be used, also, and some use a dash of Worcestershire sauce.

Source: L’Arte Culinaire: Hotel St. Francis  Book
of Recipes and Model Menus (1910)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince Hirtlzer wasn’t picky about how the apples should be cut, and since I was pinched for time, I grated them with the grater blade of my food processor. I thought that was close enough to his suggestion to “coarsely mince” the apples to meet my goal of trying to reproduce these old recipes with as much historical accuracy as possible in a modern kitchen, at least the first time around. Alas, my slight divergence from a strict reading of the recipe took a toll on the finished product. The grated apples tended to clump up, as the photos show. I don’t think that would have happened if I had minced or sliced them, as Hirtzler instructed. It didn’t affect the taste, but for a more aesthetic presentation, next time, I’ll try the “thin slices” option for cutting the apples.

About Mark

Mark Thompson, who currently resides in Philadelphia, writes about law, history and food, among other topics. American Character, his biography of Charles Lummis, an Indian rights activist who lived in California and the Southwest from the 1880s through the 1920s, was honored by Western Writers of America in 2002 with a Spur Award for best biography. His second book, Vintage California Cuisine, traces the origins of the state's unique culinary sensibility to the earliest cookbooks published in California. Thompson also publishes a web site called SeasonalChef.com, about farmers markets and seasonal produce. He has written for dozens of publications including the Atlantic, The New Republic, the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times.
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