For those of you who have been following along, this is part of my "Dinner and a Movie: White Christmas" series! I chose this salad as a menu starter for a variety of reasons. One, because I enjoy grapefruit and wanted something relatively simple and refreshing to counter the heaviness of some of the other items on the menu. But also because grapefruit was a very typical appetizer and salad ingredient from the 1930s through the 1960s. Pink grapefruit was first commercialized in the late 1920s and by then grapefruit in general had become a popular breakfast food. In the 1930s, with the rise of Hollywood and the ubiquitousness of citrus fruits in both California and the newly popular Florida as a vacation spot, grapefruit took on other guises. Broiled grapefruit became a popular appetizer and it was increasingly used in salads. Commercially canned grapefruit became available in the mid-1920s, which added to its popularity.
So, in a movie that doesn't QUITE make Hollywood and California the star, but which definitely "visits" the tropics through the tropical nightclub in Florida, grapefruit seemed like a natural addition to the menu. This particular one is quite a simple recipe, from my 1942 edition of the American Woman's Cook Book by Ruth Berolzheimer, an extremely popular cookbook that was in print from 1938 through the 1960s.
Grapefruit Salad (1942)
The original recipe is quite simple. It reads:
"Peel grapefruit and free the sections from all membrane and seeds. Cut sections in half, crosswise; lay on a bed of lettuce leaves and serve with French dressing. Sprinkle with tarragon leaves or with mint if desired."
Supreming citrus (which is the official term for peeling and freeing citrus from the membrane) is extremely time-consuming work and doesn't always turn out how you'd like. Which is why if you'd rather use modern canned grapefruit, please feel free. The French dressing referred to in this recipe is NOT the modern, gloppy red stuff. It is, in fact, code for vinaigrette. I made my own, in my adaptation of the recipe, below. There's even a little maple syrup, to New England things up a bit.
1 large pink grapefruit for every two people
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup (optional)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
thinly sliced red leaf lettuce
Peel the grapefruit with a sharp knife over a small bowl to catch the juice. Using the knife, carefully cut each section away from the membrane on either side and cautiously remove, trying to keep the section intact. When done, squeeze the remaining pulp for juice into the bowl.
Arrange the lettuce on each plate, then add the sections (you can cut them in half, or not). If you get 8 intact sections, you're doing better than I did. With a fork, mash up any remaining pulp into the juice (fish out any seeds), then add the olive oil, maple syrup, and Dijon mustard and whisk with the fork to combine. Pour the dressing over the sections and lettuce and serve.
And that's it! Simple, if not easy (supreming is hard work!), and very tasty. The maple and the grapefruit flavors go very well together, although the dressing is a bit sweet. Do you think it goes with White Christmas (1954)? Let me know in the comments! And be sure to follow the White Christmas tag or visit the original menu post for the rest of the White Christmas Dinner and a Movie menu.
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Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.