Ahh, the Wooden Salad Bowl
My grandmother had them, so did my mother. And, on Sunday’s, we still eat out of them.
There’s a great deal of argument over the wooden salad bowl. It’s another “must-have” from the ’40s to the ’60s, designed as such due to an initial article by one George Rector. If you recognize the name it’s because George was the son New York restaurant owner Charles Rector. At one point, Rector’s was a hot-spot in the city. Reportedly Rector’s—the restaurant—was the first US building to have a revolving door.
After his father’s restaurant closed, George became a cookery writer. From 1934 to 1936, he wrote a series of articles for the Saturday Evening Post (which you can now read in the book, Dine at Home with Rector). One of those articles, “Salad Daze”, explained how wooden bowls should never be washed, only wiped clean, because the wood would “cure” over the years and create quite delicious salads. He was eloquent in his explanation:
Wood, you see, is absorbent, and after you’ve been rubbing your bowl with garlic and anointing it with oil for some years, it will have acquired the patina of a Corinthian bronze and the personality of a 100-year-old brandy.
Soon after Americans started eating more salad, and sales of wood salad bowls skyrocketed.
By the way, the article also touted that only fresh ground pepper be used in salads, so along with the bowls, pepper mills sales increased, too.
Today, people describe Rector’s claim about salad bowls to be nothing more than a hoax—much like claims about bacon and how it became a staple in the all-American breakfast via manipulation. In the 1960s, food writers disputed Rector’s published theory, claiming it utterly false. The oils and dressings used to coat a salad, they said, can seep into the wood and turn rancid.
Hoax or not, we resort to this type of serveware and dinnerware mostly because it rekindles memories. Some do believe it makes their salads taste better, while others, like me, simply adore the nostalgia of the wooden salad bowl. As well, plenty have washed their bowls in mildly soapy water and dried them well to prevent warping, and argue that they’ve never tasted anything but “fresh” when serving up their greens.
What about you? Do you preface dinner with greens in a wood bowl?