Who ‘kilt’ the lettuce? Colonel Bacon in the kitchen with the cast iron

By Candace Nelson - 10:00 AM

Kilt Lettuce

Here is my latest column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail:

You might be from Appalachia if you keep leftover bacon grease at room temperature in a glass Garfield mug from McDonald’s on your stove. Or maybe that was just me growing up.

Those leftover bacon grease drippings — which can be stored up to a month without refrigeration — are culinary gold. And they’re the star of one Appalachian salad that’s sure to stick to your ribs.

Wilted lettuce, or killed lettuce, or even ‘kilt’ lettuce, is typically a spring staple when home gardens begin producing beautiful greens.

But it’s also a perfect seasonal transition dish — like at the end of summer when you want to enjoy the last of the fresh veggies while the weather is shifting into cool, cozy mode.

This bacon grease and green leaf lettuce is simple. Fry up some bacon (or dig into your stash), drizzle the hot bacon grease drippings over a bowl of fresh picked lettuce and let the liquid swine crispies wilt — or kill — the lettuce lightly.

You can add green onions, crumbled up bacon, hard-boiled eggs or even red wine vinegar to the dressing to round it out, but it’s tasty even in its most simplistic version. James Beard, in “American Cookery,” writes that a wilted lettuce salad is “one of the oldest and probably the most functional of salads.

It can be made with nearly any type of greens and needs so few ingredients that it could be prepared en route in the covered wagon, in camp, or in the most primitive house.”

The Wall Street Journal named wilted lettuce “America’s Most Satisfying Salad” in a 2018 article that also praised the Appalachian salad for making a generous meal that lends itself to “endless improvisation.”

While the origins of the simple salad are obscure, Appalachia certainly took to it and continues to celebrate it.

The dish integrates with our culinary traditions easily — making use of something available and stretching that ingredient as far as it can go. Appalachia is known for its resolve and its ingenuity is evident throughout the region’s culinary history.

Through dishes like this, Appalachians help keep food history and food traditions alive — even when they’re kilt.

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