Wilted Salad (Killed Lettuce)

Although the calendar says that Summer is still about a month away, here in Kentucky, it feels like it’s well under way. Due to an unseasonably mild winter, schools are finishing up for the year. My Facebook feed is full of graduations, awards days,  and proms.

Summer is a wonderful time to be a foodie in Appalachia. Gardens are popping up, and all three of our local farmers markets are open for business.  It’s still early but there are a few crops coming in and one of those is lettuce. And for many people, Summer doesn’t start until they’ve had a mess (that’s a unit of measurement here) of Wilted Salad, also called Killed or “Kilt” Salad.

Wilted salad is more than a salad. It’s an event. A tradition. A hallmark of country living. I remember my mom fixing herself a mess of this every year. I thought it was supremely gross at the time. (Like all of the naps I avoided as a child, I’d like to have back all the food that I spurned in childhood too). She ate it maybe once a summer, sometimes twice. It’s not something you’d eat daily. When I was in high school, my friend Shawna talked about how much she loved it. I was flabbergasted that anyone under the age of 40 would want to eat such a thing.

Years later, my friend Starr would look forward to scoring her annual mess of this salad that she called Killed Salad. Still, I was unconvinced. My mom even sent Starr a bag of lettuce and some green onion one summer so that she could get her fix. “Cornbread”, according to Starr, “is essential to eat with Killed Salad.”

So finally, I tried it. And I get it now. This stuff is good! In the picture above, you can see I used a red leaf lettuce. I fried two pieces of bacon which I crumbled up and added to the lettuce along with some chopped green onion. Then I drizzled some of the bacon grease and gave it a toss.

Looking back, I think it was the bacon grease that freaked me out the most about this salad. But really, bacon grease is just a fat like olive oil or any other oil you’d add to a salad. And surpassingly, the salad doesn’t taste heavy or greasy. You don’t drown it in the grease; you just drizzle it. It’s more an enhancement of the lettuce, onion, and bacon than an actual player in the salad.

In researching Appalachian foods, I found several mentions of Wilted Salad and there are a lot of recipes for it online. Some associate it with Tennessee and I found recipes for “Tennessee Killed Lettuce”. There are variations that use vinegar and sugar to make a hot vinaigrette dressing but that doesn’t seem popular here among people I’ve talked to. It also seems that some people will add cucumbers, mushrooms or radishes to their salad.

The name is also interesting to me. In an informal polling of my friends, I found that most of my friends  from central and southeastern Kentucky call it “Wilted Salad” while my friends from farther east in Kentucky call it “Killed Salad” or “Kilt Salad” (this comes from the pronunciation not the clothing item).

Whatever the name, it’s a summer tradition that stays with us mountain folk wherever we may roam. So, fix you up a mess and let’s get Summer started!


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