I was a 9th grader at Immaculate Conception High School in Memphis the first time I heard the expression. Melissa said it, one of the edgy cool girls who knew every Garbage lyric by heart. “What’s a salad day?” I asked her. Her eyes, like Cleopatra’s eyes, were forever ringed in black.
“I don’t know exactly what it means, but I’m pretty sure these days are our salad days.”
Your salad days are when you are young, when you have lived wildly, or your best days. Henry Fowler hated the expression. In his 1926 Dictionary of Modern English Usage, he writes:
Whether the point is that youth, like salad, is raw, or that salad is highly flavoured and youth loves high flavours, or that innocent herbs are youth’s food as milk is babes’ and meat is men’s, few of those who use the phrase could perhaps tell us; if so, it is fitter for parrots’ than for human speech.
Not a fan, that Mr. Fowler. Well, I say, if it’s good enough for a parrot, then it’s good enough for me. And if it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it’s far too good for me.
I hereby posit that these are our salad days. These Houston days, post-summer solstice, as the heat begins its upward climb to break through the hundreds, and the sun reflects back onto us from all the corners of our shiny, paved metropolis–these are our salad days. Our blood needs to be a little colder, if only to bring it back down from the boiling point.
And now, without further ado, I give you: Watermelon and Feta Salad, as reinterpreted from Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer.
Watermelon and Feta Salad
You will need:
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
3 pounds or so watermelon (about half of a large one or one of the small ones)
9 ounces of feta cheese, roughly chopped (the Bulgarian variety is particularly wonderful)
one bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
one bunch fresh mint, roughly chopped
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces of black olives (the pitted very salty ones at olive bars are the best)
Chop the watermelon into cubes. As far as I know, the easiest and most efficient way to do this is to slice the watermelon in half straight down the middle. Then, cut off the ends of the watermelon. Place the watermelon on a cutting board, middle end down, and pare off the rind in chunks by starting at the top and cutting down to the cutting board. Then it is much easier to chop the flesh into cubes or triangles. Both you and your kitchen will be baptized in watermelon juice.
Everything else goes into a bowl. Gently, very gently, toss the salad. You may need to use your hands so that the watermelon and feta chunks aren’t battered in the process. Eat it. By the pool, by the ocean, in the garden. It offsets the heat of a grill beautifully.
They tell me this is what summer in Israel tastes like.