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Gramma’s hot bacon dressing

For the upcoming CHEW meeting/potluck, we’ve been asked to bring dishes that have a travel story.

I was having real trouble thinking of a dish, until I started recalling the summer trips to my grandmother’s house in Cincinnati, when I was a little kid. Which makes pretty much everything in Joy of Cooking fair game – my grandmother, who was a very good cook, was the child of German immigrants in Cincinnati. Irma Rombauer, the author of the first Joy, was the child of German immigrants in St. Louis. I think Irma was a little older than my grandmother – born in 1877, while my grandmother was born in 1896 – still, their style of cooking was quite similar.

I decided I wanted to make hot bacon dressing for wilted salad. My grandmother usually served it on iceberg lettuce, although it’s more commonly served on spinach now. One of the restaurants where I worked in my twenties added fennel seed to the dressing and served it on spinach garnished with oranges. My mother liked it on cabbage, because it wilts less, and since I got cabbage in my CSA box, that’s what I’m going to put it on at the potluck.

Our version of the dressing was always made with cider vinegar and brown sugar. I searched Joy, and only found a sweet sour bacon sauce for green beans or other vegetables, with white sugar, but the method is how we make it: cook the bacon, remove most of the fat, add the vinegar and sugar, boil it down a bit, then pour over the greens while warm. My 1978 Betty Crocker has a wilted lettuce salad, with basically the right ingredients (white sugar again) but sort of an odd method – the bacon is cooked, the vinegar added, and then the lettuce wilted in pan – that’s not so strange – but then the sugar is sprinkled on in the salad serving bowl. Marion Cunningham and Fanny Farmer have a recipe for dandelion greens salad (that sounds really good, actually) where you mix the vinegar and sugar with salt and pepper and minced fresh garlic, then cook the bacon and remove it from the pan, then add the greens to wilt in the fat. The vinegar mix is added, it gets tossed, and served with tomato slices and the crumbled bacon.

Here’s my family’s version.

For approximately two pounds of greens:

  • 2 pounds spinach, lettuce, or cabbage, washed, dried, stemmed if necessary, and cut or torn into bite size pieces (cabbage can be shredded)
  • 8 strips (half a pound) of bacon, sliced into 1-inch pieces (or a little bigger – as Joy says “cut up”)
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 – 4 TBLS brown sugar
  • optional – 2 -4 finely sliced green onions
  • lots of freshly ground black pepper

Put the greens in a heat proof (metal or glass) bowl. Cook the bacon until crisp and, using a slotted spoon, remove to paper towel to drain. Pour off all but 4 TBLS of the bacon fat from the pan. Add the vinegar and sugar, and cook until the sugar is dissolved. Boil until a bit syrup-y. Add the onion at the last minute if using. Take the dressing off the heat and pour over the greens. Add the bacon bits and toss. If the greens do not wilt as much as you would like, put the bowl  over the warm burner and toss until the salad is more wilted (this works best with a metal bowl). Serve soon, and feel free to garnish with boiled eggs, croutons, whatever you like.


Me at age 7 and some, about to be 8, (summer of 1963) on the glider at Grandma’s house in Cincinnati, Ohio

My grandmother's house in 1951, from my mother's wedding photo album - August 19th, 1951, to be precise

My grandmother’s house in 1951, from my mother’s wedding photo album – August 19th, 1951, to be precise

Grandma's house in 2014, courtesy Google

Grandma’s house in 2014, courtesy Google

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