In The 1930s, A Newspaper Reporter’s Hoax Led To A Longstanding Tradition Of?
Answer: Not Washing Salad Bowls
For the better part of three decades, thousands upon thousands of Americans did something entirely curious (and completely foolish) all because of a bored (but clever) journalist’s little prank.
In 1936, one George Rector, a journalist for the Saturday Evening Post and food critic, decided to put on a little hoax to take advantage of Americans love of all things Parisian and sophisticated. In the September 5, 1936 edition of the Saturday Evening Post, he wrote a completely fabricated little piece about how Americans have been making salads all wrong and we should learn a thing or two from the French.
He insisted that in order to properly prepare a salad, as the French did, you had to rub a fresh clove of garlic on the inside of a wood salad bowl, then wipe it down with oil, and, most critically, never wash it. He explained:
Wood, you see, is absorbent, and after you’ve been rubbing your bowl with garlic and anointing it with oil for some years, it will have acquired the patina of a Corinthian bronze and the personality of 100-year old brandy.
This curious bit of advice definitely won’t make your salad taste any better and, given the very absorbent nature of the wood bowl Rector highlights, will lead to a bowl positively soaked in rancid oil that will smell up your entire cupboard and impart no “personality” to your salads at all.
However, given Rector’s pedigree (his father ran one of the most successful and flashiest restaurants in New York City) and his acclaim as a food critic and writer, the readers bought the ruse hook, line, and sinker. Not only did they start following his instructions immediately, but well until the late 1960s his instructions were found in cookbooks and food prep manuals across the country.
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