Waldorf salad is an apple salad, usually served on a bed of lettuce.
The basics of the salad are apple, celery, walnuts and mayonnaise. The apples are used raw, and ideally should be somewhat tart. It is not necessary to peel the apple.
Many versions now add rice, chopped turkey, cranberries, and pears. In fact, the sky seems to be the limit, with even wheat berries, tofu cubes, and miniature marshmallows making appearances.
Some versions swap yoghurt for the mayonnaise in an attempt to be more “healthful.” They can be so tart, however, that you need to add sugar and oil, and find yourself wondering why you didn’t just reach for the mayonnaise in the first place.
At the Waldorf Hotel today, the salad is served as a side-dish with game.
Waldorf Salad was reputedly created by Oscar Tschirky (born 1866, was maître d’hôtel at the Waldorf from 1893 until his death in 1943) at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York in 1893. The hotel, though, wasn’t where we think of the hotel being now (2007) — it was actually located on the site where the Empire State Building was built.
It was not the first apple salad ever created, as some sources erroneously report. There were at the time already recipes for other apple salads. And Tschirky was the maître d’hôtel at the Waldorf Astoria, not the chef, again, as is erroneously reported.
The recipe appeared in print as early as 1896 (page 503 of “The Chicago Record Cook Book”, 1896 edition.)
Tschirky’s original version as served in the 1890s contained apples and celery bound together by mayonnaise. He used red-skinned apples, and didn’t peel them.
By 1897, recipes for it were calling for the addition of nuts, choices for which included walnuts (see excerpt from the Times Democrat below in Literature and Lore section.)
In 1906, Alexander Filippini (on page 536 of his “International Cook Book”), allowed that walnuts or pecans, plus raisins (if you seeded them first), could be added to the original recipe as “an innovation.”
Literature & Lore
“The delicious “Waldorf salad” is made with one cup of tart apples cut fine, one cup nuts, filberts, hickory nuts or English walnuts, season well with salt and cover with the following dressing: One cup vinegar, one-half cup sugar, boil five minutes, cool a little and add the well beaten yolks of six eggs mixed with one tablespoon of flour and one half tablespoon of mustard; stir well and cook again, stirring constantly until thick. Remove from fire and beat until cold and smooth, then add very slowly three tablespoons of best olive oil and one cup of sour cream, whip all together thoroughly.” — The Times Democrat. Lima, Ohio. 17 April 1897. Page 8. [Ed. (1) directions for the dressing, which appears half-way between a boiled dressing and a mayonnaise, are given at a time when there was no such thing as mayonnaise in a bottle; (2) it’s anyone’s guess where one would have found olive oil in Lima, Ohio, in 1897.]
“WALDORF SALAD: This is one of the most popular salads. It is really intended as an accompaniment to the game served at a gentleman’s dinner, but is nice for any dinner when poultry is served, The real Waldorf salad is made as follows: Pare and core two large, tart apples and cut into dice half an inch square, cut up an equal quantity of blanched, crisp celery and mix with the apples; add a little salt; sprinkle lightly with French dressing and then mix with mayonnaise. Do not let stand but serve at once in cups formed of crisp lettuce leaves. Chopped English walnuts may be added to this salad, or make a salad of equal quantities of orange dice, nuts and celery and serve in the same way.” — The Trenton Times. Trenton, New Jersey. 18 September 1901. Page 6.
“You’re the top! You’re a Waldorf salad.
You’re the top! You’re a Berlin ballad.
You’re a baby grand of a lady and a gent.
You’re an old Dutch master, You’re Mrs. Astor,
You’re Pepsodent.” — from the song “You’re the Top” in the musical “Anything Goes” by Cole Porter.
In episode 9 of “Fawlty Towers” (5 March 1979), Americans arrive at Basil Fawlty’s hotel and demand a Waldorf Salad. He doesn’t have the foggiest how to make one, and offers them instead a “Ritz Salad” (of which of course the guests have never heard, as there is no such thing, which means Basil can toss into it whatever he wants.) Finally, Basil’s wife Polly manages to make one.