Named after the Park Avenue hotel where it first saw the light of day, rather than, as Basil Fawlty would have it, “a walnut that’s gone orf”, the Waldorf salad has always carried with it a whiff of glamour that’s quite at odds with the actual dish. This simple chopped salad made its debut at a charity ball held at the New York hotel in aid of St Mary’s Hospital for Children in 1893, so it was designed for mass catering, rather than haute cuisine. It’s quick to put together, it can be made ahead of time without fear of wilting, and it also happens to use a couple of very seasonal ingredients. Perfect autumnal stuff.
The fruit and veg
It’s not often that recipes have a reliable origin story, but in this case, there seems little reason to doubt that the Waldorf is the creation of Oscar Tschirky, the Swiss maitre d’ who included the original in The Cook Book by “Oscar” of the Waldorf, published in 1896. Interestingly, his version contains only three ingredients: celery, apples and mayonnaise.
Celery, though not my favourite vegetable, is a non-negotiable part of a Waldorf salad, adding a fresh crunch and a subtle minerality, so if you’re more of a fan, feel free to go larger. However much you use, though, always peel the sticks, as Jamie Oliver explains, to get rid of “the stringy bits”. Tschirky and other early recipes such as that from Countess Morphy’s 1935 Recipes of All Nations dice the celery and the apple, often keeping the texture quite chunky (perhaps because Tschirky’s might have been designed to be eaten with one hand during breaks from dancing), but I prefer it thinly sliced, as in most modern versions.