Waldorf Salad (invented—where else?— at the Waldorf Astoria when it was a grand Park Avenue hotel) was one of my mother’s favorite lunches and one of those dishes that my father refused to eat. His favorite lunch was, strangely, a banana sandwich (ideally on Pepperidge Farm white), which naturally I thought was a normal kind of sandwich until I ventured further afield. Only in tomato season did Daddy replace the banana disks with sliced tomatoes, often from his garden.
As an adult, I’ve made Waldorf Salad few times. I’m not even sure I’ve made it for my 32-year-old daughter. I do remember making it in my West End Avenue kitchen in the 1980s, but frankly I’m not sure I’ve eaten it since. For some as yet inexplicable reason, I experienced a hankering on Thursday evening as I lay in my hammock, rocking in a gentle breeze in the warmth of Indian summer, drinking in the animated red-green canopy of leaves (it always seems a harbinger of Christmas to me) overhead.
My thoughts immediately turned to Mother and to the fact that I had no apples and no car to enable the swift satisfying of my culinary urge. I’d wait for the weekend. I shop on Saturday mornings, either hitching a ride with my neighbor Jan, or taking the 8:30 bus, driven by a lovely fellow from Woodstock, VT who came to Purgatory, IN with the objective of after graduation landing a chair in the violin section of a symphony orchestra. Friday flew by without Waldorf thoughts. But on Saturday, as I walked from the bus station to the weekly farmer’s market, a place where Amish, hippie, and redneck farmers gather to hawk their seasonal agricultural wares, I began to salivate and then remembered.
One stand, run by an Amish family whose matriarch has a truly extraordinary sense of color and form, as evidenced by her mesmerizing display of flowers for sale, grouped by dominant hues, has the largest assortment of apples, including several rare and heirloom varieties. Jan, who has tested the apples of many vendors, is a loyal customer. I bought a quart box of Esopus; I had never heard of them, but the name appealed and their vendor described their taste as juicy, crispy, slightly tart deliciousness (definitively not the case with ‘delicious’ apples).
It’s broccoli and squash season, so I bought those, too, in addition to my staples: greens and eggs. It was ‘peak’ weekend, warm with leaves in a rainbow of hues lacking only blue still mostly firmly attached to their branches. The early morning sun shone; the colors were intense. Instead of the Jerry Garcia look alike happily busking, a talented female banjo player sang traditional favorites familiar from Burl Ives, Pete Seeger, and Doc Watson. I bought a hot, densely aromatic coffee from a local roastery, dropped a bill into her case, and enjoyed her music until it was time to complete my shopping at the local co-op and catch the bus home. It’s not Waldorf Salad without celery and walnuts. As I sat listening and drinking my coffee, watching people arriving at the market and the leaves dancing in the breeze, I thought, surprised, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be at this moment! Usually, there are many more places I’d rather be than in Purgatory, but just then, under those—for me—idyllic conditions, I could not have been happier. I did think about staying another hour and catching the next bus, but what makes any experience memorable and wonderful is just its fleetingness, its fragility. Duration becomes routine, no matter how pleasant.
On Sunday, I made my Waldorf Salad in the morning, envisioning it for lunch, but seeing it while ravenous after swimming a kilometer, it became brunch. It tasted just as I remembered it. I closed my eyes and was back at the family kitchen table beneath the window overlooking our backyard. I saw my jerry-rigged, securely padlocked, plywood playhouse peeking from behind the garage and the flower garden Daddy’d planted along the stockade fence. This wasn’t an emotional moment, just a neutral flashback to a frequently experienced, banal occurrence from my childhood. Will it be another three decades before I make another Waldorf Salad? Doubtful…it tasted pretty delicious!
RECIPIE – 2 servings
1 tart apple, 2 celery stalks, 1 cup walnuts, lemon juice, mayonnaise
Dice apple and celery. Chop walnuts. Mix with the juice of 1/2 lemon and as much mayonnaise as you like. It’s a good take-along lunch, since everything stays crispy!
How do you make this Waldorf Salad?