If you go to church or grew up in the church, you’d undoubtedly seen what I call a Church Lady Cookbook. It’s a self-published collection of recipes from the ladies of the church, spiral bound into a book covered with hearts, roosters, or cartoon ladies holding steaming apple pies. Every once in awhile, you find a recipe inside that is pure gold. Maybe it’s a recipe that reminds you of holidays as a child. Pistachio “salad”, anyone? Or maybe it’s an amazing recipe for corn casserole. In the case of Church Lady Salad, it’s just a really tasty recipe, albeit one with a half cup of sugar in the salad dressing. 🙂
My Church Lady Salad is a riff on a recipe entitled “Winter Fruit Salad” from one of my mom’s church cookbooks published in the 1990s. Now I wouldn’t call this a fruit salad. There is fruit, but it’s definitely a lettuce salad.
You see, these cookbooks take a liberal approach to the word “salad”. Many recipes filed as salad contain Jell-O pudding. A few contain just regular Jell-O, and they of course wiggle when you unmold them. One salad recipe even contains chopped up Snickers bars. It’s appropriately named “Snickers Salad”, and to be honest it is really delicious. So you can see that the term “salad” is used loosely.
These cookbooks also contain two other things: wisdom and a lot of love. These church ladies were crafty and smart with using what they had. They made these recipes for their families. They made these recipes for their friends. They made these recipes for funeral dinners, and dinners before Lenten church services, and brunch after the sunrise service on Easter morning. These collections of recipes are a labor of love, and they have fed countless people both body and soul.
And if there’s one thing about these church ladies, it’s that they show up. And they are hospitable as they come. If someone has a baby or gets injured, you can bet that someone is organizing a meal train. If the church holds a fundraising dinner, they will make food for hundreds. If there’s a church meeting, they will bring snacks. Once a month or so, you can find my mom in the kitchen making homemade blueberry pies to freeze for funerals.
And when it comes time to raise money for ministries or missions, the church ladies will show up with their best recipes for the church cookbook. I have no doubt that this Church Lady Salad, or a similar version, has served many, many people over the years.
Most modern day vinaigrette recipes call for olive oil and maybe a tablespoon of honey, max. The vinaigrette for the Church Lady Salad, however, contains ⅔ cup of vegetable oil and a half cup of sugar. No agave, honey, or fancy olive oil here! It’s truly a vinaigrette that you could make with pantry staples. And wouldn’t you know it—the vinaigrette is really good! It’s sweet but not overly so, and the shallot adds a nice onion-like bite.
It’s topped with apples, cranberries, pecans, and shredded cheese (I used gouda). And it goes with just about everything! I served it most recently with Cuban Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce and Arroz Moro (Cuban Black Beans and Rice). Church Lady Salad is not remotely Cuban, but it complemented the meal really well. It would also go well with lasagna, pizza, sandwiches, beef roasts, pork roasts—basically anything! The vinaigrette is my husband’s go-to salad dressing now, and thankfully it’s a far cry from his beloved mixture of Aldi Thousand Island and French. I’m happy to have converted him. 🙂
Certainly the church isn’t the only place that makes these cookbooks. Who else makes them? Do you have any recipe gems from decades ago? Tell me in the comments below!
Church Lady Salad
For the vinaigrette:
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ⅓ cup lemon juice
- ⅔ cup vegetable corn, or canola oil
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon poppyseeds
For the salad:
- 1 large head lettuce torn or 10 oz of bagged/boxed lettuce (I used mixed greens)
- ¾ cup chopped pecans
- 1 large apple cubed (I used Pink Lady)
- 1 cup shredded cheese like swiss, gouda, or manchego
- ½ cup dried cranberries
For the vinaigrette:
- Combine the vinaigrette ingredients in a 16 oz jar with a tight fitting lid. Screw on the lid and shake until combined.
For the salad:
- Add all of the salad ingredients to a large bowl, reserving a few tablespoons of all topping ingredients (pecans, apple, cheese, and cranberries) for the top.
- Toss half of the vinaigrette with the salad mixture. Add more if desired. Top with the reserved topping ingredients and serve immediately.