Hillbilly Cuisine: Killed Lettuce (or "Kilt Lettuce")


Growing up in Norfolk, Virginia listening to the stories of Ma's sister, two brothers and their families, I thought I'd learned everything there was to know about Frog Pond Holler. When we moved here 15 years ago, I soon discovered there was a lot more to life in the Southern Appalachians than I'd been told.

Most of the food you can order down at the Grab n' Go (and go and go) is your standard Southern fare. Fried chicken, pinto beans, mashed potatoes, collards.. the same items you can find at any roadside diner outside of Atlanta. There are, however, some recipes which I believe are unique to the hillfolk who reside in those remote areas, where you can still see outhouses and go for miles without seeing a satellite dish as you bump along uneven dirt roads.

I've never tried the dish known here as "Killed Lettuce" and it's a pretty safe bet that I never will. With the Hee-Haw Clinic here in the holler preaching the sins of cholesterol and the evils of pork fat, chances are slim that you'll find anyone who still prepares it.

If you are lucky enough to find someone who wasn't "reared up" here in town, someone who spent their early years "back up on the mountain," they might tell you how their Mamaw used to send them down to the creek to pick some branch lettuce, which would be washed and drained while the frying pan full of bacon grease got hot on the stove.

Onions or ramps (ramps are a topic for another post entirely) would be added to the hot oil and allowed to cook, leaving them slightly crisp. Season the onions with salt and pepper, add the lettuce to a bowl, pour the pan of hot pork fat and onions over it, causing it to wilt (or "killing" it) and there ya go.

I've heard of it being served with the bacon, but I think this is a later development. Back in the day, cooks always saved a can of bacon drippings on the stove to cook with. I've also heard of it being seasoned with vinegar, but only rarely. Usually eaten with a meal of pinto beans, cornbread and fried potatoes, Killed Lettuce is one of those delicacies I'll leave to the real mountain folks.

For more about how we cook here in the hills, check out:


32 comments:

Meritt said...

ROTFL... I had NO IDEA what "killed lettuce" was until I got to the end of the post and I said to myself;

OMGOSH... she means "Wilted Lettuce" which, infact was very popular to make in a few different versions all across the nation back in the 40's and 50's.

Anonymous said...

Ewww...yeah, wilted lettuce is something most of us throw away... I have heard of ramps before, but I don't know what you do with them.
I suppose it involve the stove top bacon grease..LOL

Travel said...

Interersting, I wouldn't turn my nose up at it until I tried it. You can imagine what that attitude has resulted in me trying.

DG

Travel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bobbie said...

Sounds like that lettuce sure enough was kilt! Don't think I'd want to try it. Just the thought of collard greens is enough to turn me away from the table. I tried them once. That was enough.

Aarin said...

my mom makes wilted lettuce salads all the time and uses bacon and then pours in vinegar to 'deglaze' the pan. it reeks therefore i prefer she make it when im not home in VA.

Joy T. said...

Ewww. Although I've been to some pretty fancy restaurants and this sounds awful familiar to some of the things I've had...and they charge a fortune for. I'll stick to a nice Greek salad please.

Honeysuckle Rose said...

I actually had something similar in a snooty restaurant in the South of France, except they added Roquefort cheese ... it was fantastic!

tiff said...

Sounds delicious, akshully!

kenju said...

My mom called it wilted lettuce and I thought it was a poor excuse for food. Nowadays, I prepare kale that way; bacon fried and then set aside; the kale washed, dried and tossed into the hot grease, stirred for a few minutes and left to steam (under a lid) it is heavenly. Sprinnkle the crumbled bacon on top and it's even better!

kenju said...

P.S. My dad loved ramps, but my mom refused to have them in the house, so he used to go to ramp feasts every spring, held out away from the city in some country hollow....LOL

Melissa said...

Wilted lettuce salads are good. I use just a tiny bit of bacon fat for flavor and substitute olive oil. The pan is deglazed with balsamic vinegar. It's not that unhealthy with the oil substitution.

Anonymous said...

Yep...I agree with melissa...
But...I have never heard of ramps and can't wait to hear you explain that. Of course, I'm in Louisiana, so I may have had ramps all my life and called it by a different name.

Robbie

Mahala said...

Wow, there seem to be several versions of wilted lettuce salads! Who knew?

Dianne said...

My ex-husband was from a tiny town in SC. All the "best" cooks I was told kept their bacon grease (and other grease) til it was "good and tasty". It was used many times.

I'll never forget the war I started when I threw a crusted, disgusting Crisco can full of gross slimy goo into the trash.

Heathen Northern Bitch - that's me.

Mahala said...

LOL Dianne.. I know of couples who damned near divorced over the tossing of the bacon grease.

Sarah said...

I lived with my parents and grandparents for a while and there was a big coff can next to the stove for the bacon grease. Back then everything was cooked in it. They were Prussian and Greek immigrant via south Dakota. I always thought that grease was gross and unsanitary, of course when my dad visits you bet your ass I save the bacon grease to fry his eggs in. Everything we ate was deep fried until I became a "VEGETARIAN", oh horror of horrors. I've relaxed quite a bit, I love a piece of salmon or halibut and and I will fight you for the last sea scallop, seared in butter with a little garlic, lemon and sage. OK, I won't fight you, I'll make a double batch, you deserve them:) Ramps though, I have heard of them but since I live I the West Coast version on Frog Pond Holler (we call it Mayberry) they don't stock them here. Please do tell!

rennratt said...

Ew, RAMPS!

I went to college in a town that boasted of a Ramp Festival.

Mountain Onions meet garlic.

If you eat them, you sweat the smell for DAYS.

Jeni said...

Boy, does this post bring back memories of some great eating and I've never been further south than Camp A. P. Hill, VA! (Yes, a Damned Yankee here.)My Grandpa used to plant a huge garden every year and the very first things we got to eat from the garden were the "spring" or green onions mixed with fresh, tender leaf lettuce. Grandma had a can of bacon grease sitting off to the side of the stove and a little of that grease would be heated and mixed with vinegar and sugar and then poured over the lettuce and green onions to make "Wilted Lettuce Salad." I rarely ever get to have leaf lettuce now - don't know anyone who has a garden and plants it -but man, it is a great salad!

Inanna said...

My brother loves wilted lettuce but I have yet to try this mountain delicacy. I've also never eaten ramps. I swear I was born and raised in the Appalachians and everyone around me goes to the Bean & Ramp Dinner every year. I just never could bring myself to eat them.

Now, cook up a mess of pinto beans, cornbread, fried taters, and molly moogers and I'm all over that!

Bulldog said...

Shoot fire, girl . . . we used to make killed lettuce salads out thar in the middle of Ill-uh-noise. Tain't no Virginny secret.

Of course, I haven't had any since we moved to Virginia.

the gritlet said...

You know I've been making and eating kilt lettuce since I was yea big. Not to knock all of your friends who've commented, but there's a big difference from using kale, romaine, endive etc. lettuce and using branch lettuce; branch lettuce is wild - in both manner of growth and taste. It's tasty, but it's a lot different from anything you'll find outside of a farmer's market or my backyard. From what my grandma always told me, the meal is Cherokee - according to her they've eaten for time out of mind.

You make me homesick, Mahala.

Jerry said...

My sister makes that, only calling it wilted lettuce. It's leaf lettuce with green onions, salt, pepper, and garlic salt. Then bring cider vinegar with a teaspoon of bacon grease to a boil and pour over the top. Add bits of bacon if you like.

It's the hot-diggety bomb!

hensteeth said...

I knew there was a reason I get you. We roamed the same beaches growing up. Moorehead City north across the Chesapeake to the Burg.

(Isn't bacon grease a food group?)

Meritt said...

Rennratt....

Mountain onions meet garlic? Really?

IS THIS WHAT GREW ALL OVER MY YARD WHEN I LIVED IN TENNESSEE????

I swear there was no grass... our rented townhome had wild onions for grass (looked like green onions). The smell after mowing was AWFUL.

Is this what that was?

Mahala said...

meritt: Ramps are like onions meet garlic on steroids. Probably not the same thing.

poopie said...

What? I STILL keep my bacon grease for cornbread and such.

Law Student Hot Mama said...

All food is improved upon with bacon drippings.

BetteJo said...

Ramps? Never heard of such a thing.
But I love me some corn bread!

oldfriend said...

My mom made this often when I grew up, and I know it is still served in Lancaster Co., PA. Here's a link to a similar dressing: http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1615,156175-237196,00.html

Anonymous said...

Hi! One of our hottest new restaurants, Husk Nashville, has Killed Lettuce on the menu. (They don't use the Appalachian pronunciation, "Kilt" Lettuce.) Recipes for Wilted Lettuce are in the Joy of Cooking, I think. If you want to read about ramps, check out articles in the NYT or NY Magazine. Ramps are a hot commodity each year in April.

Anonymous said...

Well its been known as wilted lettuce most of my life growing up in the Ozarks..Usually Ma made this with fresh stuff from our garden and often our own made bacon or salted pork..She used green leaf lettuce, radishes, green onions (instead of ramps) vinegar and oil..Nothing better when its hot..If you eat it cold you are wellllll.. you are just plain Ig'nant... Hillbilly Dave