16 January 2012

The Claremont Salad Lives!

The Claremont Diner, in Clifton, NJ
I grew up in New Jersey, not far from one of the famous "Jersey diners," the Claremont Diner. Called simply The Claremont, it was best known for two things: the courtesy salad that was plunked down on your table as soon as you slipped into your booth — and refilled faster than you could empty the little metal bowl — and the slice of heavenly cheesecake you ordered at the end of the meal. The Claremont is long gone now, both the original diner in Verona (which burned down) and its replacement in Clifton, which is now a car dealership. But the food memories of all its grateful customers live on. And thanks to the Internet, where the original recipes circulate freely, we can now recreate at least some of our culinary past.

Oh, the memories . . .
The Claremont salad is sweet and sour and crunchy and addictive and healthy. I found the recipe online and started making it here in Brazil when I wanted something different to serve to guests for a summer lunch. Reaction to it was so positive that I began making and serving it regularly. I kept copies of the recipe in both English and Portuguese, because no way would a guest leave our house without the recipe in hand. One day, as I was preparing a batch, our cleaning lady, Rosângela, asked what I was making. As we talked about the salad, I knew that the best way to really show her would be to give her a container to take home to her family, along with the recipe in case they liked it. Well, she said they loved it. This was six, maybe seven years ago, and for years nobody said anything more about it.

Not until last week, when Rosângela started talking about her weight loss (which has indeed been considerable). She wanted me to know that she attributes the loss in part to her eating the Claremont salad, which she calls "that salad you showed me how to do years ago." She told me that nowadays, instead of taking dessert when invited to a party, she takes the Claremont salad. She's actually become famous in her neighborhood for it. She told me she's given the recipe out to dozens of friends, who've passed it on to dozens of their friends. She also told me that she gave the recipe to her family doctor, who fell in love with it and serves it every time he has a barbecue. Of course, given how the game of telephone works, I wonder how close to the original these versions are. But even so, it gives me pause to think that the Claremont salad of my childhood lives on in the wilds of Búzios, Brazil. I think the Bauman brothers, Leo and Morris, co-founders of the Claremont Diner, would be pleased. I know I am. 

Here's the original recipe. Be sure to make it in advance so that the salt, sugar and vinegar form a pickling solution that permeates the vegetables and softens the cabbage. You can eat it after an overnight in the refrigerator, but leaving it the fridge for two full days is better.

The Claremont Salad
1 head of cabbage (white or red), shredded 1/2 C sugar
1 green (or red) pepper, sliced                          1/2 C vinegar
1 large onion, sliced                                        1/2 C salad oil
2 carrots, sliced in rounds                                1 tsp salt
1 cucumber, sliced in thin rounds                     1 TBS water

Mix all of the above ingredients together and place in a big bowl or a large plastic food storage bag. Let sit at room temperature for two hours, then place the salad in the refrigerator.


For those who want the full experience, here are the Claremont Diner cheesecakes. Their original recipe can be found on the Carnegie Deli's website.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting this! I used to live in Claremont in Verona and this was a happy place for alot of people!

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  2. Hi Thanks for writing this My father and his three partners established the diner in 1955 but weren't able to make a go of it and sold out to the Bauman brothers about a year and a half after opening. I was 15 and worked for free as a bus boy dishwasher all summer 1955 just to hang with my Dad.

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