Sunday, March 05, 2006

Selmo's Salad Dressing


Left to right: Great Uncle Johnny, John Selmo, My Grandfather

This is more a tale of Pennsylvania than Florida...

A while back, in some good eats post, I casually mentioned my Mom's salad dressing. There were some requests for the recipe in the comments, so I checked with Mom to see if it was okay to share her recipe. Not only was it okay, but I got this neat picture and some more details on the family history that goes with this simple vinagrette.

First, true confession mom is a Yankee. I know, it's a shocking revelation, but it's true. You can read about how that came to be in this post.

Mom grew up in tiny Glen Campbel, PA. It's a one street town in the western Pennsylvania coal country. When she was a little girl, an Italian immigrant (legal) named John Selmo became a boarder in her house. As Mom tells it, Selmo was living up the hill at the time, but was in need of a new place to live. One afternoon as he came trudging up the street, he stopped and spoke with my grandfather (the dashing young man on the right). Selmo asked if he could lie down on the couch and rest a bit.

My grandfather said yes. Selmo didn't leave for the next 6 years. He was not a freeloader, he worked, paid room and board, and shared some Italian cooking tips during that time.

Mom and Selmo got along great, did kitchen chores together, and most importantly...she listened when he told her how to make a good Italian dressing and spaghetti sauce.

This vinagrette, which we just call Selmo's in, "Are we having Selmo's salad tonight?", is extremely simple. You need to remember this very important fact however...YOU MUST SALT THE SALAD. You simply can't skip this step and expect it to taste right. I've listened to numerous women tell my mom, " Peggy, I tried that salad dressing recipe, but it just doesn't taste like yours." To which, my Mom will always ask, " Did you salt the salad first?" Usually, they forgot that step.
You musn't.

Okay, get your big salad bowl full of whatever you consider to be a tossed salad. Now follow this recipe.

Disclaimer: This dressing is so second nature to me, I never measure anything in it. I am estimating amounts.

Selmo's Salad Dressing


Olive Oil
Vinegar ( I like red wine vinegar, but cider and balsamic fit too)
Tarragon dried
Basil dried

Salt, but not in the dressing.

1) mince a nice fat clove of garlic. Add it to your cruet.
2) pour in about a half cup of vinegar
3) add a teaspoon of tarragon
4) add a tablespoon of basil
5) add about a cup of olive oil...generally a two to one ratio with the vinegar...but you can adjust to your individual tastes.
6) shake the hell out of it and let it sit and meld
7) SALT your salad generously.
8) Give the dressing another good shaking, dump it on the salad, and toss thoroughly.

That's it. You can adjust it all you want, it's very forgiving.
We eat it at least 3 times a week.

If you try it and like it, give John Selmo a toast.
It's his legacy.


Zanne said...

Thank you so much, and thank your mom for the recipe. I'm going to try it tonight. I love tarragon so I know it's going to be good!

Boarders - what happened to boarders? They've gone the way of the past. My grandmother kept boards as a way to keep her house after her and grandpa got divorced. Some of them were real characters. If you travel to Lynchburg, Tennessee and tour the Jack Daniels Distillery just before noontime, you might get invited to Mrs. Bobo's Boarding house for a homecooked boaring house meal. Mrs. Bobo's was in operation well into the 70's I believe, and she died well into her 90's about 10 years ago.

Also, nothing wrong with being a southern yankee. I guess that's what will call it. I'm one you know. I'm a southerner through and through, with the unfortunate luck to have been born and raised in the Chicago area. My dad was a true Florida Cracker, born to pick cotton and strip sugar cane. My mom a tobacco farmers daughter from upper middle Tennessee. Your mom's OK with me!!!

Rexroth's Daughter said...

Did your mom say it would be okay to share Selmo's spaghetti sauce recipe too?

Laura said...

Tarragon! This sounds delicious! I'll give it a try real soon.

My hub's grandparents were here this past week and I was surprised to see his grandmother adding salt to her salad bowl. I rarely use salt in cooking and that just blew me away. But she thought I was odd that I had never heard of such a thing.

And then I decide to visit your site and viola... salted salad. I'll mail her the recipe, if your mom won't mind. I know his grandmother will get a kick out of it!

OldHorsetailSnake said...

It's always nice to learn "a trick of the trade."

The MacBean Gene said...

Sounds great, but than anything with garlic is great. I've got to try this.

Floridacracker said...

Hope you liked it. I just finished my third helping of it.

I'm sure she won't mind, but I don't have it handy at the moment. She'll have to snail mail it.

I'm telling ya, our families are parallel universes.

Do you cook?

I agree, garlic makes almost anything better.

Zanne said...

Just reporting back - it was very, very good. The recipe makes quite a bit, so we'll be enjoying it again this week.


Floridacracker said...

Hey Zanne,
It just gets better in the fridge.

rick said...

Neat picture of your grandfather I dont remember him being so tall course we shrink as we age.Glen Cambell must be small as you said, everytime I run into someone from Penn. I ask if the ever heard of Glenn Cambell and I havn't had one yet say they have heard of it.

Floridacracker said...

Me too. They know where Punxatawney is, but not Glen Campbell even though they are neighboring towns.

Hick said...

At long last. I remember that post and I remember asking for the recipe. Yahoo! It looks yummy. Too late tonight to have it...but tomorrow...

Thanks. Neat story, too.

Floridacracker said...

Enjoy! Report back.

Donsgal said...

It sounds so great I wish I wasn't allergic to garlic. *sigh*

Anonymous said...


My name is Laura Selmo and we have italian parents and i thought it was amazing to find out there are other people in the world with my name. i gave mum the sald dressing ingredients hoping she will make it. bye