Appalachian Food

Lettuce and Onions

killed salad

killed salad, kilt salad noun A salad made by pouring boiling grease over lettuce or other greens. Same as wilted salad.

~Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

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Each Spring The Deer Hunter and I look forward to the first kill lettuce of the season. Various names are used for the traditional Appalachian dish: killed lettuce, kilt lettuce, wilted lettuce, lettuce and onions, lettuce, killed salad.

Just like different families call the dish by different names-it’s also cooked a little different by folks too. Today I’ll share 2 of the most common recipes with you. Both recipes are the same in regards to serving. Kill Lettuce should be served immediately after making.

The dish uses fresh leaf lettuce from the garden-or even branch lettuce that grows wild along the creek and branch banks.

The way Granny taught me: Begin by picking and washing your leaves of lettuce-making sure to dry off as much water as possible. Sometimes I wash mine early in the morning and leave it drying on a towel on the counter.

Next-cut up several green onions and mix with torn lettuce in a bowl-adding salt and pepper to taste.

Pour hot bacon or salt pork (Pap and Granny call it streaked meat) grease over the lettuce onion mixture. Be prepared for lots of hissing and popping when the grease hits the lettuce. Stir and serve quickly. It doesn’t take much grease-a little bit goes a long way. I’ve found hot olive oil works well too.

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Miss Cindy’s family made Kill Lettuce by a different recipe-but one that is also common throughout Appalachia:

I learned from Dad how to make wilted/killed lettuce.

Cook a few slices of bacon and crumble it in a bowl on top of the torn lettuce and cut green onions (cut onions including the tops). Add salt and pepper. Heat the remaining bacon grease and pour it on the greens then add vinegar or lemon juice to the hot pan and swirl it then pour it on the greens. Toss the bowl contents to mix and eat immediately…with cornbread. The lettuce is so fragile that it doesn’t take much grease to wilt it and the lemon/vinegar is hot so it helps to wilt it as well.

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Our favorite way to eat kill lettuce is with cornbread and soup beans (pinto beans). The other day we had it with hamburgers-it was pretty good that way too, actually it ain’t bad with a piece of light bread.

Ever kill your lettuce?

Tipper

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32 Comments

  • Reply
    J. Osborne
    June 21, 2019 at 2:31 pm

    Wilted lettuce (branch in the spring) with new potatoes and some mountain trout (Brookies). My grandmother was Native American her dinners were always special and a treat.

  • Reply
    Paula Vibert
    July 1, 2018 at 7:39 am

    My mother always had to make two varieties of wilted lettuce. My father only ate the hot bacon grease variety, but mom and I loved the bacon gravy version. She would make a gravy from the hot bacon drippings, add a bit of vinegar for tang, some sour cream and salt/pepper to taste. Pour it over tender lettuce with green onions and step out of the way…we couldn’t get enough.

  • Reply
    Sue
    May 4, 2018 at 8:49 am

    Does anybody have the recipe for wilted (kilt) lettuce using both vinegar and sugar? That’s how my Mom and Grandma made it, but I don’t know the proportions.

    THANKS!

    • Reply
      tipper
      May 7, 2018 at 4:51 pm

      Sue- A few years back Cee left this comment: I add crumbled bacon, vinegar, dry mustard and brown sugar to the grease before I pour it on the lettuce. That and cornbread is all I need for a meal!

      Hope that helps 🙂

    • Reply
      David Remmler`
      May 1, 2019 at 9:58 pm

      equal parts vinegar and water, about 3/4 cups each, 3 tablespoons sugar. add to bacon grease bring to a boil and pour over lettuce stir and enjoy

  • Reply
    Helen Gardner
    May 3, 2018 at 3:41 pm

    We call it wilted lettuce in my family and I could make a meal on just this. I always was at the table on time when mom made this!

  • Reply
    RB
    April 25, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    We call it wilted lettuce. I only remember making it for the family a time or two which is odd, cause our Dad loved bacon. Anyway, the recipe I learned from a childhood friend named Sandy is as follows:
    Fry up 3-6 slices of bacon (depending upon how much you like bacon-LOL)
    Drain all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan
    Into the pan, add 1 tablespoon of finely minced onion or shallot or green onion
    Fry onion until translucent, scraping the pan a bit to get the brown bits off the bottom
    Then add 3 tablespoons of water, 1 teaspoon of sugar, pinch of salt and pepper, and stir until the sugar and salt melts.
    Pour carefully over washed and dried lettuce.
    Crumble fried bacon on top.
    It’s scrumptious.
    We had rain and rain and more rain here about 20 miles south of Raleigh. Raleigh is flooded in many places, but we’re ok here in Angier, praise God – and I pray you all are too.
    God bless.
    RB
    <><

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 25, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    Jeanne – Branch lettuce is not watercress. Branch lettuce is saxifraga micranthidifolia if you want to look it up.
    A bait of something is a little more than you can eat. A mess is the perfect amount, a bait is a little more. A mess will satisfy your appetite. A bait will make you wish you hadn’t eaten it all.

  • Reply
    June Jolley
    April 24, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    I grew up watching my family eat this, but somehow I could never bring myself to eating the wilted
    greasy stuff. I guess I will just have to settle for “I don’t know what I’m missing.” By the way, branch lettuce is not a lettuce at all, but a saxifrage. We used to pick it along the branch at our cabin on Bluff Mountain in Madison County, NC. I can still hear that streaked meat grease hissing and popping as Mama poured it over the onions and lettuce.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 24, 2017 at 4:29 pm

    I’m thinking that maybe the oil they had back when (lard) wouldn’t pour unless it was warmer than room temperature so the wilted part just had to be accepted? These days we have an embarrassment of riches to choose from.

  • Reply
    Jeanne
    April 24, 2017 at 4:19 pm

    We love our wilted lettuce here in WI. My Kentucky family must have brought their recipe with them when they came here around 1904. Love, love, love that first garden lettuce and green onions. We usually make a hot bacon, vinegar and sugar dressing.
    Can someone tell me what branch lettuce is. Is it what I would call water cress? And what portion is called a bait. Not familiar with that term.

  • Reply
    Tipper
    April 24, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    Kathy-thank you for the comment! We call pinto beans soup beans : )

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    April 24, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    A feast fit for a king!I have heard all my life if you only had one food to eat what would you choose? I would have to choose wilted lettuce and onion. I might try to see if cornbread could be added to make the perfect meal. I just always looked so forward to wild greens or that first killed or wilted lettuce from the garden. Several years back an older acquaintance prepared this using iceberg lettuce. It seem to taste just as good, so now I enjoy this year round.
    I enjoyed Shirl’s post so much because it reminded me of those wonderful days back when. Many times I have seen a dishpan full of leaf lettuce from the garden with Mom checking every little crevice for bugs or dirt clumps. Then it was washed well under running water. On rare occasion we were treated to hot dogs from a drive in, but mostly meals were prepared from the freezer, home canned goods, and the garden. Cooks back then made it appear easy to throw a meal together, and no driving to a favorite fast food place.

  • Reply
    Ken
    April 24, 2017 at 12:45 pm

    Tipper,
    I grew up calling it killed lettuce and young onions from our garden when I was little. My friend brought me a bait of ramps the other day and I had them with diced, fried taters. I can remember when daddy went up the creek after work and got some branch lettuce. Those old timers knew how to live off the land. …Ken

  • Reply
    Evelyn Massey
    April 24, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    I use olive oil to kill my lettuce.Cannot use meat grease because of health problems.Also good idea for vegetarians.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 24, 2017 at 11:51 am

    I’ve never killed or kilt my lettuce. When I was growing up my parents and most of my siblings had a dish, made with the same ingredients and made the same way as yours, called “scalded lettuce.” If I ever ate it, I don’t remember it. As a matter of fact I can’t remember eating anything green except onion tops. No lettuce, collards, mustard, creasys! No green beans or peas!
    My taste for the greener things of life has matured over time. Perhaps it’s time to revisit “kilt” aka “scalded” lettuce too.
    PS: All the rain herelately has got me to thinking about changes to my garden. Does anyone know to start a rice paddy?

  • Reply
    Jackie
    April 24, 2017 at 11:28 am

    I’ll eat the lettuce but no onions. Onions mess up my sugar.
    Then my wife doesn’t ‘t like it. (lipilated sugar, not granulated.}

  • Reply
    Julie Hughes Moreno
    April 24, 2017 at 11:27 am

    My Granny and Mother were the wilted lettuce queens! I wish they were here to fix us a bait of it to eat!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    April 24, 2017 at 11:00 am

    Sometimes I heat some water with my grease to help reduce the fat…as long as it is seasoned and real hot you still get the taste and good wilt…My Dad always fried bacon, poured off the grease except what he thought he needed for flavor…stirred in the frying pan his roughly chopped onions and lettuce. Salt and peppered, then crumbled the bacon back into the wilting lettuce…Don’t take much grease this way as the heat from the stove eye wilts it….careful not to let It cook or it will wilt too much!
    I have used olive oil also, but then I have to at least have crumbled bacon stirred in to bring back my favorite tasty memory!
    Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    Kathy Poteet Dubree
    April 24, 2017 at 10:36 am

    I forget what type of beans are considered soup beans? Pintos, kidney, Northern white etc… I just remember they were soupy with white juice. I would love bf to make me some.

  • Reply
    Tamela
    April 24, 2017 at 10:03 am

    When you think about it, Miss Cindy’s version is greens with a bacon and citrus vinaigrette – country style!! Maybe it will show up in the fancy restaurants like the ramps have.
    I like mixtures of greens and think the “country vinaigrette” would be great on them; but I never had “kilt greens”.
    My romaine has already bolted so it will have its own kind of bitter if I choose to eat it; however, my curly leaf lettuce is going great guns and we are enjoying it!
    By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask: do folks who eat ramps have less trouble with ticks and other bug bites when they are out in the woods?

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    April 24, 2017 at 9:30 am

    A family favorite! We could eat a huge bowlful and I remember Granny chopping the lettuce in a deep bowl with a straightened sharp spatula. My son and I try to have some in spring & we like crumbled bacon on it & hot cornbread. I can never get any out early enough anymore so we have to buy leaf lettuce for ours. One year my lettuce went to seed and blew over the garden. That fall we had an incredible crop of lettuce–it was beautiful!
    My husband hates onions so he will not eat it. I have never understood how people can live without eating onions. one of my sisters in law will not even keep onions in her house.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    April 24, 2017 at 9:23 am

    Tipper,
    Don’t tell me that there are still folks out there that don’t kill their Spring lettuce and onions, with hot hog (bacon/streak) grease and vinegar?…What a waste of spring onions n’ greens! Why that’s like the “rite of passage” in these here mountains! Must be flat-landers alls I know, that would want to miss out on such a grand tasty “gourmet” treat!…Remembers me of those Ramp dislikers!
    “Kilt Lettuce” is akin’ to the “spring tonic”, “spring cleansin” or “warshin’ winders” and “beatin’ the rugs” after a long dusty winter!
    Well, I’m sure your recipes hopes show them the way how folks around these parts welcome Spring to their mountain table!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…cornbread, beans and kilt lettuce Is for supper…
    You won’t believe how much rain we got ‘fore the spigot got turned off here on this side of the mountain!

    • Reply
      B. Ruth
      May 7, 2019 at 4:07 pm

      B. Ruth dear…Yes, I’m a’talkin’ to myownself…You forgot that Daddy fried up streaked meat took it out of the pan and then kilt the lettuce and onions…Put the pot of beans on the table, ate his crispy streaked meat and kilt lettuce…Yep, he said it was so good an healthy…while slathering a big piece of cornbread with butter and stirin’ in the crumbles of bread into his bean pot liqueur…LOL

  • Reply
    Dolores
    April 24, 2017 at 9:19 am

    I remember as a child my dad would brown up some bacon, break them into small pieces, clean up spinach leaves or dandelion, dry the leaves, and finally place the bacon chunks around the bowl with the leaves and then drizzle the bacon fat on the salad and serve. Your recipe reminds me of this tradition.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    April 24, 2017 at 9:09 am

    I love Kilt Lettuce (Leaf or Branch) with Green Onions and/or Ramps but do not use pepper or vinegar. I too love it with Cornbread and Soup (Pinto, Northern or Mixed) Beans. My major problem with this mean is that I tend to eat to much.

  • Reply
    marshall reagan
    April 24, 2017 at 9:02 am

    we always picked wild lettuce to go with the lettuce we grew . I love it but my wife does not like it so when I want some I fix it myself.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    April 24, 2017 at 8:58 am

    Lettuce and onions has got to be served with soup beans and cornbread! The rabbits will not allow me to have a lettuce bed without getting way more than I do. So, I tried killing leaf lettuce from the grocery store, but it’s not the same. The leaves are too tough and don’t wilt to suit me. Mom picked her lettuce in a huge dish pan and placed each leaf in another pan after she “looked” it. Every leaf was turned front and back to assure it was worm and bug free.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 24, 2017 at 8:55 am

    My Mom liked wilted lettuce salad but somehow I never took to it. The truth probably is that I never gave it a fair chance. Not sure why.
    I remember looking forward to lettuce and onions as two of the earliest things from the garden. Back before my day when fresh green produce was not readily available I’m sure that first green was a treat after a winter of dried, canned and smoked.

  • Reply
    Maggie Roberts
    April 24, 2017 at 8:11 am

    I remember helping Mom making wilted lettuce, my Dad loved it. We used the second recipe with the vinegar, and sometimes added a bit of sugar along with the salt and pepper. Delicious!

  • Reply
    Pam Danner
    April 24, 2017 at 8:01 am

    Oh yes!!! I could eat a whole big bowl myself! We add the vinegar to the bacon grease, so tangy and delicious!!!
    Pam
    scrap-n-sewgranny.blogspot.com

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 24, 2017 at 5:14 am

    Oh Tipper, that’s food of the gods! I remember my Dad making lettuce and onions. It was a real treat. My Dad grew up country cooking and when he talked I paid attention. I learned to cook from my Dad!
    I recently had a local seller at our tail gate market say you could add arugula to the mix of greens for wilting. That was a new one to me. I haven’t tried it yet. I’m guessing you wouldn’t want too much arugula in the mix because it is slightly bitter. Her arugula was very young and tender.

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