Name a food, there’s probably a holiday to celebrate it. That’s what I discovered at foodimentary.com, a site that tracks almost daily tributes, from the sublime-sounding National Coconut Cream Pie Day (May 8) to the somewhat ridiculous National Nutty Fudge Day (May 12).
When I discovered that May 1-7 is National Raisin Week, I immediately remembered my mother’s carrot-raisin salad from the 1960s. When I asked her for the recipe, she said she never used one. She simply shredded carrots, then mixed them with raisins and mayonnaise. For color coordination, she served the salad from an orange and white bowl similar to the one pictured here.
I couldn’t find where carrot-raisin salad originated, but I did learn that ancient Egyptians and Romans ate raisins, and this kind of dried fruit is also mentioned in the Bible. The American market began in California in 1873 when a freak hot spell withered grapes on the vine, and an enterprising San Francisco grocer called them “Peruvian Delicacies,” according to foodimentary.com. The Sun-Maid company opened in 1915, the same year its representatives discovered Lorraine Collette Peterson drying her hair in her parents’ back yard in Fresno, California. Young Lorraine agreed to wear a red sunbonnet and pose for the “Sun-Maid Girl” painting reproduced on the company’s boxes of raisins ever since.
Instead of relying on my mother’s memory for making her carrot-raisin salad, I went to the Good Housekeeping Book of Salads (1958) for specific directions. My mom never added oranges or garnished her salad with slivered almonds and cilantro, but I wanted to add a bit of color contrast. The hint of sugar in the mayonnaise dressing reminded me of when we thought sugar gave us energy instead of empty calories – and my sister and I jumped up from the table to bounce our Wham-O Super Balls in the street after dinner.
Carrot-Raisin Salad (1958)
1/2 cup raisins
Boiling water, as needed
1 large orange or 2 clementines
1 1/2 cups grated raw carrots (about 5 medium carrots)
1/4 cup mayonnaise (I used 2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Lettuce leaves, for serving
Slivered almonds, for garnish (optional)
Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish (optional)
- Place the raisins in a heat-proof bowl. Pour in enough boiling water to cover them. Let stand 5 minutes. Drain and let cool.
- Divide the orange into segments, and cut into cubes. Place in a large mixing bowl. Add the raisins and carrots.
- In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise with the lemon juice, sugar, and salt. Toss with the carrot mixture. Taste and add more salt if needed.
- Serve on a platter lined with lettuce leaves. Garnish with almonds and cilantro, if desired.