This wilted lettuce recipe is one of our favorite side dishes. It’s a salad with hot, tangy dressing made with bacon grease, vinegar and sugar poured over garden-fresh lettuce and green onions. Then, topped with bacon bits.
What is wilted lettuce?
For those who don’t know what wilted lettuce is, it is a salad made with a hot, tangy dressing that uses bacon grease, vinegar and sugar. It is poured over garden-fresh lettuce and green onions. The hot dressing softens the lettuce and has a bit of a tang from the vinegar, but a hint of sweetness from the sugar.
Our favorite time of year to enjoy this salad is during the summer months with fresh lettuce and green onions from the garden. However, we have a grocery store that carries local produce, and we can have this delicious salad year-round with fresh ingredients from local farmers.
Wilted lettuce was a staple in my grandma’s kitchen. Whenever she would make wilted lettuce, it usually meant we were also having fried wild onions. My grandma would make both of these quite often during the summer, because it was the best time of year for fresh lettuce out of the garden, and the only time of year to pick wild onions.
I can still remember walking into my grandma’s house smelling chicken and dumplings and bacon frying for the wilted lettuce, green beans, and wild onions. She added bacon grease to almost every dish! And then for dessert, she would typically fix her Strawberry Shortcake.
My grandma and grandpa lived during the Great Depression and had to learn how to stretch their food. They had gardens and hunted for a lot of their food. Wilted lettuce used ingredients my grandma would have on hand without having to buy salad dressing.
Many of the typical wilted lettuce recipes use bacon grease, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. My grandma’s version uses a splash of heavy cream.
She would always make the dressing in a cast iron skillet. My grandma used her cast iron to cook almost everything. I think it just adds so much flavor to the food.
Growing up enjoying fresh garden salad
Growing up, my mom also made wilted lettuce quite often. The funny thing is, my husband grew up eating wilted lettuce too. When the first batch of garden lettuce is available in the summer, he always asks me to make it.
As I reminisce about fresh garden salad, I remember once as a young child we had a garden. It was a particularly hard time in our lives as money was really tight. My parents asked me, my brother and sister to cut some lettuce from the garden for dinner. It was our first time and we cut ALL of the lettuce filling our little red wagon full. We were so proud, but didn’t realize it doesn’t save well. Needless to say, our parents weren’t as happy as we were.
Where did this salad originate?
When we moved to Illinois, we discovered many of our friends here have never heard of wilted lettuce. I was surprised by this, so I had to do a little research trying to find the origin of this recipe. After a bit of searching online, I found several sites that indicate it’s a southern dish. However, I also found a couple of sites that indicate this dish may have originated in Germany.
This wilted lettuce recipe is so simple to make. It consists of fresh garden lettuce, green onions, white vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper to taste and a splash of heavy cream (which is optional). You fry the bacon, then add the vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper and heavy cream. Bring to a simmer and pour over lettuce and green onions. How simple is that!?
You can really make wilted lettuce with any type of lettuce, but I have found the fresh garden lettuce wilts down the best.
Other side dishes
If you are looking for some other delicious side dishes, here are a few that I think you will love!
Wilted Lettuce Recipe
- 1 pound bacon, cut into small pieces
- 1/3 cup white vinegar
- 2 1/2 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 2-3 green onions, chopped
- 8 cups fresh garden lettuce
- splash heavy cream, optional
- Fry bacon in a large skillet (I like to use a cast iron skillet) over medium heat.
- Remove the bacon when done and set aside, leaving grease in skillet.
- Add vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper to the bacon drippings.
- Allow the mixture to continue to cook, stirring frequently until it begins to slightly boil.
- Remove from heat and add cream.
- In a salad bowl, combine lettuce, crumbled bacon and green onions.
- Drizzle hot dressing over salad and toss.