The salad known to everybody as the Waldorf Salad, originated, as most of you probably already know, at the famous Waldorf-Astoria hotel right here in New York City, sometime between 1893-1896. Made with fresh apples, celery and walnuts coated with a creamy mayonnaise dressing served on top of a bed of greens, it has been a classic probably most often associated with the ‘cheesy 80s’. These days, when Waldorf Salads are served at restaurants and in food obsessed homes, it’s perhaps a more elegant, lighter and sophisticated version that appears, taking inspiration from the original recipe.
It is Oscar Tschirky, the Swiss maitre’d at the Waldorf, who has been credited with creating this internationally recognized salad. He was known to have a hand in many, later famous recipes, developed at the hotel, more notably also later thought to “Thousand Island Dressing”. The recipe for Waldorf Salad first appeared in a cookbook published in 1896 called “The Cook Book by Oscar”, originally without nuts.
But was Oscar really the brain behind this salad? Nobody really seems to be able to confirm this 100%. Some Norwegians, most notably food journalist Aase Strømstad, suggest it may have been developed (or perhaps fine tuned) by Jørgine Slettende, a humble farm girl from Bøverdalen in northern Gudbrandsdal. Jørgine married Lucius Boomer in 1947, who became general manager of the hotel, and together they ran the world’s most fashionable hotel. The Waldorf hotel (later named Waldorf-Astoria) was originally built in 1890 by the the wealthy William Astor.
The hotel was demolished in 1929 to make room for the Empire State Building, but it took only 2 years to rebuild. It was only a couple of decades later that Jørgine and her husband took over the management of the hotel. By comparing time frames, and the fact that the recipe appeared in writing much before Jørgine’s presence at the hotel, we must conclude that although this is a very cute story, probably not a very believable one. I tried finding references to Jørgine and Lucius Boomer in the Waldorf-Astoria Cookbook by Ted James and Rosalind Cole, to no avail. I did, however, find a funny story about the infamous cat, “Mr Boomer”, named after the human Mr Boomer, who was a resident in the kitchen for many years, despite the health board’s law insisting “no animals in the kitchen.” He appeared to have arrived out of nowhere, and was quite an extraordinary cat. He was named Mr Boomer because he had such dignity about him, much like Jørgine’s husband. He would eat nothing but crab meat, and grew bigger and bigger and tipped the scale at 20 lbs. Guess the Waldorf salad was beneath him!
The recipe for Waldorf Salad as listed in the Waldorf-Astoria Cookbook, originally published in 1969, is as follows:
1 cup diced apple
1 cup sliced celery
1/4 cup mayonnaise
4 lettuce leaves
2 tbsp chopped walnuts or pecans
Mix apples, celery and mayonnaise, pile in lettuce leaf on individual salad plates. Garnish with nutmeats. Serves 4
Today there are endless variations of the Waldorf Salad. Efforts and changes have been made to lighten it up by substituting yogurt for mayonnaise, for example, and adding meats like turkey, chicken and other vegetables to make it heartier and more of a complete meal. In Norwegian kitchens I’ve often seen grapes and pineapples being added into the salad and folded with whipped cream, making it more of a dessert alternative.
The Waldorf salad is a classic staple on the Norwegian “koldtbord” (“cold table” ,indicating a table consisting of mostly room temperature dishes), and is similar to the Swedish “smørgåsbord”. Perfect with cold cuts, flatbread served at parties, as well as an addition to people’s turkey on New Year’s Eve, it’s versatile, easy to make, and layered with different flavors and textures. Not difficult to see why it has become a crowd pleaser.
Below is an updated, or should I see more common recipe you’ll see for Waldorf Salad in Norway today, with my little twist of course. You can substitute the mayonnaise for a light sour cream if you are not fond of mayo.
1 cup red apples, sliced thinly
1 cup Bartlett pears, sliced thinly
1/2 cup celery, thinly sliced
3/4 cup red grapes
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Whip the heavy cream with the sugar. Fold in the mayonnaise. Mix all the other ingredients, and season with fresh lemon juice.
Source: nrk.no / The Waldord-Astoria Cookbook by Ted James and Rosalind Cole