Russian salad

My mother was not one for cooking if she could help it. All that chopping and slicing and peeling and mixing. So exhausting. Therefore, like many other modern mothers of the 1970s, she opted for convenience wherever possible.

If something could be microwaved, she’d microwave it. If it came in a box, a can or a packet, she’d buy it. (I think I was about 13 before I realised that “fish” didn’t necessarily come in oblong shapes and covered in breadcrumbs. I was a bit older than that when I learned that Vesta curries with their exotic raisins weren’t exactly what the rest of the world might recognise as an Indian delicacy.)

One favourite for Saturday tea-times was a bit of cold ham and some Russian salad. I’m not talking about the salad that was invented in the 1860s by Lucien Olivier, the chef of the Hermitage in Moscow.

That contained veal tongue, caviar, and crayfish tails, amongst other ingredients, none of which was generally available in our house.

No, I’m talking about boiled diced vegetables.

Like all good salads, my mother’s Russian salad came in a can. It contained bits of potato, carrot, and peas wrapped up in a salad-cream sauce. Suspiciously, they looked as if they didn’t enjoy each other’s company. The same firm responsible for Russian salad (I had actually left home before I realised that salads might include items such as lettuce and tomato) also made potato salad. Also in a can.

Now, I know that times were harder then. You might not necessarily have a fridge in which to store your fresh mayo, or a salad crisper to keep your greens fresh. Items in cans, packets, and boxes could store for much longer without electricity.

But Russian salad? I’m sorry. It looked so much like vomit that Australian comedian Barry Humphries managed to perfect a vomit-inducing gag based on the substance.

He would carry a can of Russian salad onto an aircraft, empty it into the sick bag, then, after an appropriate amount of airtime, pretend (explosively and violently) to vomit into the bag himself. Then, to the horror of passengers and crew, he would ask for a spoon and eat the contents.

“If an air hostess sees you,” he said, “it can produce what I call the Chain Chunder. Five minutes later, the pilot is throwing up.”

(We’d call them cabin crew now, of course. Ahem.)

I can’t find a picture of the original tin itself, or the culinary delights therein — hence the picture of frozen peas that accompanies this article, because it is the canned peas in a salad I mainly and fondly remember. However, I have found an ad for Heinz vegetable salad (in a tin) from the 1970s.

Enjoy. Counts for at least one of your five a day!

(And yes, that is a film camera ticking in the background. Someone cleverly filmed this off the TV.)



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