This was the Dining Room in the house where I grew up, but I wasn't born when this photo was taken. Most of these folks left Cuba in the early 60's. I loved the windows in this house. Notice where the children are standing. There was a deep ledge beyond the shutters, and then iron bars for security as well as decoration. All the kids in the family played Hide and Seek in this house, and we all hid behind the windows at one time or another.
This was just the immediate family gathered on a Mother's Day Sunday in the mid-1950s. My grandmother, the white-haired lady, third from the left bore eleven children, eight of which reached adulthood. This is the clan: Kids, spouses and grandchildren. My parents are immediately to the right. My father is the gentleman with the moustache, and my mother is the lady next to him.
I'm told my grandmother ran a tight ship. The day began early in this house, and the soup kettle was set to simmer before breakfast, preparing chicken, beef or fish stock for the noon meals' first course (the main meal of the day was taken at noon). She had a housekeeper and a cook, but she supervised all the work herself. Even the adult children that didn't live here, would stop by for the noon meal, so this crowd was not at all unusual.
With so many mouths to feed, food was simple, but plentiful. Besides a clear broth soup, there was always a bean potage (heavy soup) which was served over white rice, chicken and beef dishes, fried plantains and . . . Carmela's salad. You can see her special salad on the photo below. I was so thrilled when I discovered this photo!
My grandmother claimed that this salad was “strengthening” and everyone was encouraged to take at least a small portion every day. My father really liked it, so my mother learned how to make it. When I started helping in the kitchen, this became one of my regularly assigned tasks. My father didn't like lettuce, so my mother never included it in the salad. It wasn't until I was visiting an aunt in Florida about 15 years ago, that I realized that it was left out because my father didn't like it! Since then, I've added lettuce back in the salad, as Carmela would likely have done.
The salad is quite simple: Butter lettuce, hard boiled eggs, white onions, boiled potatoes and green beans cooked crisp-tender. Then the salad is drizzled with a good quality olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.
It makes a great lunch all by itself. For a little extra zing, I sometimes make an herb vinaigrette dressing instead of using the traditional oil and vinegar.
And whenever I make it, I think of my father, looking over my shoulder as I assembled the salad, giving me pointers: “Not so much oil!” “A little more onion, please!” “Did you cook the beans enough?” “Why are you using this vinegar?” “Are we out of the other vinegar we had last week?” He could be as annoying as a little kid sometimes! But I wish he was still around to tell me how to make his mother's salad.