Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Apples, Celery and Mayonnaise - the History of the Waldorf Salad

Apples, Celery and Mayonnaise - 
the History of the Waldorf Salad
(What, No Walnuts?)

The Waldorf Hotel, William Waldorf Astor’s “Palace,” “the most splendid hotel in the world,” with a “magnificence that has taxed the resources of the world,” the gilt-edge on the Gilded Age, officially opened its doors on March 14, 1893.  Everyone who was anyone, including the richest man in the world, J. P. Morgan (the model for the Monopoly character, Rich Uncle Pennybags), attended the event, which raised all of $3,000 for St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital. 

The “Fashionable Set” were all there.  As the guests arrived in the shamelessly-named, Marie Antoinette Room, a reporter for the New York Sun breathlessly jotted down the details of the ladies’ gowns and jewelry; but left out the Fashion Police-style comments.  Too bad; Joan Rivers would have had a field-day (she might have joked that she DID have a field-day) dissing their duds:

Mrs. William Burden wore an attractive gown of black satin and moiré, with big puffed sleeves of emerald green velvet and a tiara, necklace, and several star which studded the corsage, of diamonds;

[So 1891.]

Mrs. J. Hood Wright was in a rich gown of black brocade embroidered in rainbow colors.

[Oh, please!]

Mrs. Georg C. Boldt “was in pink brocade, trimmed with mauve and lavender bows.

[Can we talk?.]

The Sun, March 15, 1893, page 2 (snarky asides added).

The Sun, March 15, 1893, page 2.

A steady, dreary rain did not dampen their spirits; nor did hotel maid, Katie McNeary’s, untimely death.   The edge of her dress got caught on the bottom of an elevator on the eleventh floor.  When the elevator boy stooped to free the skirt, the elevator unexpectedly started upwards;  she was pulled into the shaft and swung under the elevator:

The garment was too weak to sustain her weight.  It tore and parted, and her form went hustling down the shaft to the bottom of the well, 150 feet below.

. . . Her lifeless form was hastily removed to the wine cellar, and the guests knew nothing of the tragedy. 

The Evening World (New York), March 15, 1893, last edition, page 2.

The opening of the Waldorf Hotel also paved the way for the “Waldorf Salad.”

The Salad

No one knows when the first “Waldorf Salad” was served, when it was invented, or when it was first called “Waldorf.”  Modern accounts tend to credit Maitre d’Hotel, Oscar Tschirky, known simply as, “Oscar,” with the invention; a recipe for a “Waldorf Salad” appeared in Tschirky’s 1896 cookbook. 

But Oscar was no chef and probably had no hand in inventing the salad; he said as much in his biography:

“My job has always been connected with the serving of food – never the cooking.  I have whipped up a salad or two, such as the popular apple and celery mixture which has become known as ‘Waldorf Salad.’ And I have made sauces now and then, but after all those chores come into the realm of a headwaiter’s duties.”

Karl Schriftgiesser, Oscar of the Waldorf, New York, E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1943, page 227. [i]

The “Waldorf Salad” was already known by that name in January, 1895; nearly two years before the release of Tschirky’s cookbook[ii]:

F. R. L., Watertown, N. Y., writes: “Can you give me a recipe for salad containing apples and celery?”

Waldorf Salad.

This salad is a very simple one, and has become so popular merely through its name and use at the Waldorf in New York.  It is composed of equal quantities of celery and chopped, raw, sour apples, dressed with mayonnaise dressing.  At the hotel it is seldom served as a course, being preferred with game, and is in reality what is called a game salad.  It is a favorite custom, more often adopted at “stag dinners” than elsewhere, to serve the salad with the game instead of as a separate course.

Table Talk, Volume 10, number 1, January 1895, page 6.  

The salad may also have been served as early as 1894; it appears in a cookbook of recipes purportedly collected between 1881 and 1894:

Waldorf Salad. 

Take equal parts of celery cut fine and raw sour apples cut fine, make a mayonnaise dressing, and after the celery and apples are mixed well together pour the mayonnaise dressing over it and serve at once.  This is particularly nice served with the game course at dinner.

E. T. Glover,  The . . . Warm Springs Receipt-Book, Compiled between the years 1881 and 1894

Richmond, Virginia, B. F. Johnson Publishing Co., 1897, page 181.

According to The Old Foodie, “tradition says” the salad was invented for the opening of the hotel.[iii]  At least one account from the period seems to agree; suggesting that the salad was “introduced” when the hotel opened.  But whenever the salad first appeared, it was a big hit:

When a famous hotel was opened in New York City a few years ago a new salad was introduced to society.  It was a great success.  Apples of a tart, firm quality were cut into triangular pieces and combined with an equal quantity of white celery.  Over them was thrown a mayonnaise dressing made light by the addition of whipped cream.  The salad is very simple, and has the touch of art.  Apples used in this way are wholesome and refreshing, while the celery soothes the nerves.  The mayonnaise is the palate tickler.  Shortly after the appearance of this salad it was added to the menu of nearly all the prominent hotels in New York.

Salt Lake Herald (Utah), March 20 1898, page 20. 

Apples, celery, and mayonnaise; where are the walnuts?  A modern Waldorf Salad generally includes walnuts.  So what about the walnuts?

Within a few years of the first walnut-less Waldorf Salad (say that three times fast), some genius realized that apples and walnuts also go together.  In late 1896, the food writer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (December 13, 1896, page 20) suggested serving “apple and walnut salad” for desert.

The Boston Cooking School magazine suggested that:

Blanched English walnuts, broken into bits, may be used instead of the celery; but, in that case, the salad is no longer “Waldorf Salad.”

The Boston Cooking School Magazine, Volume 1, Number 4, Spring 1897, page 271.

The Boston Cooking School Magazine, Volume 1, Number 4, Spring 1897, page 271.

Hotels with salad envy joined the salad wars.  But what they had in salad-envy, they lacked in imagination – they used the same ingredients – but changed the name and cut them in different shapes:

When New York’s latest sensation in the way of a hostelry was opened it was thought necessary to give to the world another salad.  Still it was found difficult to improve upon the apples and celery, so Adolf, the wizard of salads at the new place, used the old salad as a basis for the new one, which is ordered under the name of Turquoise salad.[iv]  The apples and celery are still combined in equal proportions, only they are cut in long, thin pieces instead of triangular shapes.

. . . The mystery of the Turquoise salad is its name, which must have originated from a whim, as it cannot be explained.  If it had been called ruby the interpretation would have been quite simple, but turquoise rather suggests its not being what it appears.

Salt Lake Herald (Utah), March 20 1898, page 20. 

Waldorf Menu, April 1896.

Turquoise Salad could also be served with an extra ingredient  – walnuts:

Other restaurants serve the turquoise salad, and add to it English walnuts, which are broken in small pieces and mixed throughout.  At both places the turquoise salad is the favorite of the winter.

Salt Lake Herald (Utah), March 20 1898, page 20. 

By 1900, the Waldorf Salad was expressly associated with walnuts:

Waldorf Salad. – The following is the genuine: For Waldorf salad use two cups of celery cut fine, one dozen walnut meats, blanched and chopped fine, grated rind of one orange, one cup of apples cut in dice; served with mayonnaise dressing.

The Scranton Tribune, September 15, 1900, morning edition, page 5.

Waldorf Filling – Equal proportions of tart apples, celery and walnuts chopped very fine and moistened with mayonnaise.

The Semi-Weekly Messenger (Wilmington, North Carolina), February 2, 1906, page 7.

White grapes were a new twist in 1906; “apples, nuts and white grapes constitute the ever popular “Waldorf” salad.”

By 1916, they were getting more creative – I think I enjoyed (or at least was forced to eat) this one at Norwegian-Lutheran[v] pot-lucks in the Upper Midwest in the 1970s – the only thing missing is shredded carrots:

Waldorf salad with gelatin.

½ cup chopped walnuts.
1 cup chopped apples.
1 cup chopped celery.
Mix these ingredients and season slightly with salt.
Place in mold and pour over them one pint of lemon jello.  Serve with salad dressing.

The Coconino Sun (Flagstaff, Arizona), March 24, 1916, page 5.

If you are surprised to see, “jello,” by that name, in 1916, you are not alone; I was surprised too.  But Jell-O was apparently invented in 1897, and was sold under the name, Jell-O, by 1900:

The Taney County Republican (Forsyth, Missouri), October 18, 1900, page 7.
Daily Press Newport News, October 25, 1905, page 4.

Oscar Tschirky

Whether Oscar Tschirky “invented” the Waldorf Salad or not, he did usher in the age of the Waldorf Salad.  Astor offered Tschirky the position of Maitre d’Hotel more than a year before the hotel opened.  He joined the staff on January 1, 1893, and was in charge of the final preparations for the opening on March 14, 1893. 

Perhaps it was his idea to hide poor Katie McNeary’s body in the wine cellar.

Tschirky, who ran the hotel with the efficiency of a Swiss watch, was born and raised in a watch-making village in Switzerland.  He moved to New York with his mother at the age of 17, and soon took a job as a waiter at The Hoffman House.  He later worked at Delmonico’s.  When Astor prospectively promised Tschirky a job at The Waldorf, he left Delmonico’s, and returned to the Hoffman House; where he asked to be assigned to a smaller, less-prestigious annex near Wall Street.  He used that time to develop close relationships with men of influence and power.  Those connections served him well professionally, and financially; he reportedly became very wealthy, profiting from insider-trading tips.[vi]  He also earned a high salary for the period.  In 1921, he signed a ten-year, $50,000-a-year contract.

His high price may have been worth it.  As Maitre d’Hotel of the world’s most magnificent hotel, he entertained every President from Cleveland to Franklin Roosevelt; he was decorated by three foreign governments; and rubbed shoulders with most of the major power-brokers and celebrities of his day.

His reputation and position today are unmatched in hotel history.  Not only is he pre-eminent in the hotel field of the present day, but he was one of the colorful figures of the Nineties.  Oscar has acted as official host during the past forty years to more celebrated persons and world leaders than probably than other living man has ever met.  His solicitous and intelligent supervision of the requirements of visiting royalty has resulted in his begin decorated by three foreign governments.  In his capacity of host he has known and has extended the hotel’s hospitality to every President of the United States from Cleveland to Franklin D. Roosevelt.  His name is permanently coupled with the preparation of epicurean foods and the art of dining.

Henry B. Lent, Waldorf Astoria; A Brief Chronicle of a Unique Institution Now Entering Its Fifth 
Decade, New York, Private Printing for the Waldorf-Astoria, 1934, page 39.

In addition to having a hand in making the Waldorf Salad a success, he had rumored, tenuous connections to the “Lime Rickey” (through his time at the Hoffman House), “Eggs Benedict” (by his association with Delmonico’s) and Thousand Islands Dressing, which was popularized through its use at The Waldorf (Tschirky’s boss, George Boldt, owned a home in the Thousand Islands region of New York).


So enjoy your Waldorf Salad, with apples, celery and mayonnaise; perhaps with walnuts; perhaps with whipped cream; perhaps some orange rind; perhaps with paprika; perhaps with white grapes; perhaps with grated coconut; perhaps encased within lime-flavored Jell-O.

[i] My understanding of the passage is that he may have physically “whipped up” a Waldorf Salad or two, in the sense of physically preparing the salad; but that he disclaimed any share in its invention.  But it is ambiguous, I suppose; he may have “whipped up” the idea – but that’s not the impression I get.  You be the judge.
[ii] The publisher advertised for sales agents for the cookbook in December 1896 (The Evening Star (Washington DC), December 26, 1896, page 4); the cookbook was reviewed in the Spring 1897 edition of the Boston Cooking School Magazine (Volume 1, Number 4, page 287).
[iv] I do not know what hotel was considered the “latest sensation” in 1898; but curiously, the “Waldorf Salad” and the “Turquoise Salad” appear on the same menu at The Waldorf. Menu dated, April 9, 1896, New York Public Library menu collection.  Perhaps the article was referring to the Astoria, which opened in 1897, under the same management.  The two hotels were eventually merged to form the Waldorf-Astoria.  Perhaps it wasn’t salad envy after all; just good marketing?
[v] If you are unfamiliar with the peculiar fascination of Norwegian-Lutherans for Jell-O, I recommend the book, Lutheran Church Basement Women: Lutefisk, Lefse & Jell-O, by Janet Letnes Martin and Allen Todnem.
[vi] The Mixer and Server, volume 30, number 6, June 15, 1921, page 31.

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