At least once a month during this rather torrid Colorado summer, I’ve tried to write up a recipe from somewhere that doesn’t require the cook to turn on much, if any, heat. So, we’ve had a cold yogurt soup from Iran, room-temperature eats from Italy, even a chilled raw vegetable salad from the Middle Ages.
I was wondering what my own home state of Colorado might offer up as a cooling summer dish, when I remembered that we once were the iceberg lettuce capital of the United States. (California, of course, has won over that sobriquet.)
Yep, odd to think about that now, but true in its heyday. From the early 1920s until the 1940s, several Colorado counties such as Eagle and Routt and locales such as Buena Vista and Salida were net exporters of thousands of railroad cars of head lettuce to points East and West all around the country, well into the autumn and early winter when lettuce exports from California had ceased.
The cars were packed with ice gotten from shallow ponds high in the Rockies, especially around the (now gone) town of Pando, about midway between Minturn and Leadville along Colorado Highway 24. Pando also marks the spot where the U.S. Army constructed Camp Hale in the early 1940s to train World War II troops for the army’s elite 10th Mountain Division who were sent to fight in the Italian Alps.
An April 6, 1942, issue of the Carbondale Chronicle hails Pando as an ideal site for such a camp, “for winter comes early to this area, and leaves late.” Pando’s ice was hauled to and cut at the Minturn icehouse and used up by the boxcars of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad that had been sidelined and waiting up the tracks a bit at the Avon Depot. Lettuce farmers from in and around Avon itself, Minturn, Beaver Creek and Bachelor Gulch brought in their head lettuce (and other crops) and filled up those boxcars.
The pattern was the same at other railway depots around Colorado, with other lettuce farmers, other ice houses and ice pond sources. During those early 20th-century years, head (sometimes “crisp-head”) lettuce probably picked up its nickname, “iceberg” lettuce, due in large part to Pando’s ice.
Iceberg is presently much out of favor among the lettuscenti who prefer other greens such as mesclun, frisée, “spring mix” greens or baby spinach. (There’s also the kale boom.) Nevertheless, iceberg lettuce remains the largest segment of U.S. lettuce production, much of it going into what some believe to be the greatest invention for the home kitchen since the dishwasher: bagged lettuce.
Despite the common assumption that iceberg is low in nutrition, it isn’t; the misconception is based in the bias that it isn’t dark green. Iceberg is strong in thiamin, the vitamins A, C and K, and in iron, potassium, fiber and manganese.
True, iceberg does sport less taste or flavor than many other lettuces or greens, but I’m convinced that its perduring appeal is textural. It’s a terrific lagniappe when you can hear your food as you eat it.
So, make a classic wedge salad to cool off some meal of yours this summer and throw back to an important part of Colorado’s history when the state was Iceberg Central. For this recipe, I was lucky and picked up heads from Charles Johnson of the Colorado town of Center, and needn’t buy from California. Always nice when a Colorado boy can do that.
Buttermilk Blue Cheese Dressing
By Sam Sifton, nytimes.com. Serves 4.
- 4 ounces blue cheese, like Roquefort, crumbled
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 dash Worcestershire sauce, to taste
Sprinkle the cheese into a medium-size bowl, and mash with a whisk. Add the buttermilk, mayonnaise, olive oil, hot sauce, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce, then mash and whisk the dressing until it is mostly smooth. You may wish for a little more hot sauce, or lemon juice or Worcestershire sauce, to taste. Then whisk again and set aside.
Louis 1000 Dressing
This is an adaption of a Louis dressing (for crab or lobster salad) that I learned from my mother, Madeleine M. St. John, with the usual enhancements typical of a Thousand Island Dressing such as sweet pickle relish. Makes 3 cups.
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1/3 cup chile sauce (not ketchup), heat level your choice
- 2 tablespoons grated onion juice (or 1/2 teaspoon onion powder)
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon sweet or hot paprika powder, your choice
- 3 tablespoons sweet pickle relish, juice included
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
In a bowl, mix the first 6 ingredients, creaming them together. In a separate bowl, made cold if desired, whip the whipping cream into soft peaks.
Combine the contents of both bowls, folding gently but thoroughly so as not to deflate or beat down the whipping cream. Refrigerate until ready to use. Leftover sauce keeps for 4-5 days in the refrigerator and can be used as a dressing for salads, a dip or for a Reuben sandwich.
Subscribe to our new food newsletter, Stuffed, to get Denver food and drink news sent straight to your inbox.
Source: Read Full Article