This salad comes from my youth and it is one of the nice foods my mother Dorothy made for our family. I believe the origin of wilted lettuce salad is either Germany or the Germans who immigrated into eastern Pennsylvania around 200 years ago. We incorrectly named these people the Pennsylvania Dutch.
This salad is best served either very warm or hot. In a sense it serves as both a pungent appetizer and as a salad. It is enjoyed best during cold weather, and it certainly does stimulate your appetite. It is a delicious combination of a cooked sweet and sour dressing with bacon. Sometimes it is a thin dressing. At other times people use a small amount of cornstarch to thicken it so that it sticks better to the lettuce.
It is called a wilted salad because hot dressing is poured over room temperature chopped iceberg lettuce, and the hot liquid when mixed with the lettuce causes the lettuce to turn partially translucent and to wilt. Thus, the lettuce in this salad is not crisp, nor is it intended to be crisp.
1 head of iceberg lettuce at room temperature, chopped into 1 ½"x1 ½" pieces
6 strips of bacon
1/3 cup of diced onion
1/3 cup of white or rice vinegar
¼ cup of sugar (or less, depending on whether you want it more tart or more sweet)
1 cup of water
2 tsp. of cornstarch (optional)
Warm a glass bowl large enough to hold the chopped lettuce in a 200ºF oven. Also pre-warm the number of small salad or side dishes you plan to use for your guests.
Fry the bacon in a skillet on medium heat until the bacon is fairly crisp without large fatty spots, but not burned. Drain the bacon on a paper towel. When it is cool break it into very small pieces. Set the pieces aside.
Pour the hot bacon grease into a cup. Clean the skillet and return about 2 to 3 tbsp. of the bacon grease to the skillet. Then saute the diced onion in the bacon grease on low heat until it is translucent.
Add the vinegar to the bacon grease and onion mixture and mix well. Then add the sugar and mix well. If you plan to use the optional cornstarch then mix it with the cup of water. Gradually add the water (with/without cornstarch mixed in it) while continuing to mix the skillet contents. Add the small bacon pieces and mix. Heat the mixture to a simmering temperature around 200 degrees F and then remove the skillet from the heat.
Put the chopped lettuce into the warmed glass bowl. Then pour all of the skillet contents over the lettuce and mix everything thoroughly with two large forks, so that the lettuce all gets coated and wilts.
Return the bowl to the 200ºF oven briefly to keep the salad warm.
Serve the salad warm in the pre-warmed small salad or side dishes as your guests sit down to eat.
Enjoy … the bacon and sweet and sour dressing served warm on the warm wilted lettuce is quite tasty.
Note that no salt was used because the bacon contributed plenty of salt. Some guests might choose to sprinkle a small amount of black pepper on their salad serving.