Pioneer Cooking: Lettuce Leaves with Vinegar and Sugar

Over the summer me and the other intern, Molly, decided that it would be fun to try out some of the original pioneer recipes from, The Little House Cookbook. Hopefully our attempts of making pioneer food will make you want to try some of the recipes yourself!


We decided to start with an easy recipe- Lettuce Leaves with Vinegar and Sugar. This recipe can be found on page 112 of The Little House Cookbook. Laura writes about this recipe in her book, Little Town on the Prairie:

“The day was ending with perfect satisfaction. They were all there together. All the work, except the super dishes, was done until tomorrow. They were all enjoying good bread and butter, fried potatoes, cottage cheese, and lettuce leaves with vinegar and sugar.” (34)

The ingredients needed for this recipe are simple and fairly self-explanatory: lettuce, vinegar, and sugar. Now lettuce is vague term, as today there are many types of lettuce. We know that Ma would not have used iceberg lettuce as it was not invented until the early 1900’s. Instead the lettuce she used would have been leafy, like something she would have grown on the homestead. If you have garden lettuce use that, but if you don’t happen to have a prairie garden on hand you can use romaine lettuce like we did. As for sugar and vinegar, use whatever kind you have at your house. Today the closet vinegar would be apple cider vinegar as pioneers often  made their own using peels and cores of apples. To make your own vinegar like Ma, there is a recipe in The Little House Cookbook on page 131. However, if you do not have the time or emotional investment to make homemade vinegar you can just get some from the store. As for the kind of sugar they would have used, it would have either been white or brown sugar, whatever kind they had at the time. The recipe does not specify which kind to use, so you can use either kind. In our case, we used brown sugar.

Once you have all the ingredients you can begin making your Lettuce Leaves with Vinegar and Sugar.

  1.  Rinse the lettuce leaves and pat them dry with towels.20370344_1508600559162727_955177754_n
  2.  Put your vinegar in a cruet or a bowl if you’re not fancy enough to have a cruet.
  3.  Put your sugar in a bowl.
  4.  Take a leaf of lettuce and sprinkle vinegar on top.20371022_1508600412496075_33814977_n
  5.  Take some sugar and sprinkle it on top of your lettuce and vinegar.
  6.  Roll up your lettuce leaf and eat it like “a celery stalk.”lettuce and vinegar

If you turned your nose up at this recipe because of the seemingly odd combination of ingredients, you will be pleasantly surprised. Molly and I were shocked as to how good it tasted together. We were not sure what to expect, but it is definitely a good way to make a lettuce snack more exciting and is very easy to make!20292168_1508600312496085_1055735604_n


4 comments on “Pioneer Cooking: Lettuce Leaves with Vinegar and Sugar

  1. Julie Phelps says:

    OK, I may have to try it, but you’re right—just the title of the recipe sounds pretty awful! It’s amazing how our tastes and ideas of recipes change. This definitely sounds better than, say, Julia Child’s aspic recipe!

  2. Susan says:

    My mom used to eat this in the Spring..or a variation anyway.

    It was called wilted lettuce and utilized the tender baby lettuce leaves, thinly sliced radishes and scallions, then dressed with vinegar and hot bacon drippings.
    I don’t remember her using sugar, although she may have.

    I didn’t care for it but then I didn’t care for lettuce.
    It was one of those,””Thank God Spring is here now let’s eat what nature has made available for us, so far”
    I would scarf it down now, I”m sure.

  3. Susan says:

    Forgot to say I believe my mom used just plain old white vinegar.

    You are probably correct though that the Ingalls likely used brown sugar and apple cider vigar. The apple cider vinegar and brown sugar would probably have been pretty complimentary, though.

    The recipes I am finding online all say to use sugar although some say it’s optional or that can be reduced according to individual taste.

  4. Patty says:

    What are the main ingredients in salad Dressings? My mother would tear up lettuce leaves from our garden and clean and chill. Then sprinkle a bit of sugar on the leaves and a sprinkling of vinegar. Then toss ever so gently. So good. My family would add pepper and salt sometimes Too! Thanks for the memory!

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