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A salad dressing comes full circle

Fred Sauceman • Jun 20, 2018 at 10:30 AM

The taste was familiar. Deeply familiar, in fact. But first let me set the scene. We were in the small town of Sainte-Mère-Église, with a population of about 2,500 people. Located in Normandy, in northwestern France, it was one of the first towns liberated during the D-Day Invasion, thanks to soldiers like my father, who served with the 101st Airborne Division during World War II.

We had come to Western Europe to follow in his footsteps: the crossing of the English Channel on D-Day, the route down Hell’s Highway in the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden, the freezing siege of Bastogne, and the victorious trek to Adolf Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest above Berchtesgaden in Germany.

Virtually every building in Sainte-Mère-Église is adorned not only with a French flag but an American one as well. For the citizens of this town, World War II is not a distant memory. It’s an every-day reality. A dummy paratrooper hangs from the town church, commemorating paratrooper John Steele’s drop on D-Day when his parachute caught on a church spire. Steele was shot in the foot, played dead, and was eventually captured by the Germans, only to escape and return to his unit four days later. Today an inn is named after him. A restaurant is named after him. Items on various restaurant menus are named after him.

Respect for America and the Americans who liberated Sainte-Mère-Église has not diminished over the ensuing 74 years. An Airborne Museum there pays tribute to the heroism of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. In it is a glider, exactly like the ones my father rode in during the war.

Now back to that memorable flavor. Since we were in one of the world’s great apple-growing regions, it made sense to have lunch at a place called Restaurant La Pomme d’Or, the “golden apple,” where, by the way, the music of Elvis Presley plays constantly. It also made sense to order a pork cutlet covered with a sauce of mushrooms, cream, and Calvados, the apple brandy of Normandy.

When the dish came out, it was accompanied by a simple green salad. I took one bite, and I was immediately transported back to East Tennessee. “That’s Micheline’s dressing,” I said. We would find this dressing in two other towns in France: Vierville-sur-Mer and Hagenau.

The late Micheline Grieu Williams was one of Jonesborough’s most knowledgeable herbalists. She grew herbs in abundance and liked nothing more than taking guests through her herb garden on a summer day, explaining the attributes and flavors of each plant. She was a native of the Normandy region, and growing herbs was a way to remind her of home.

Twenty years ago, Micheline gave us a salad dressing recipe. We still use it and think about her kindness and endearing personality today. The dressing on that salad in Sainte-Mère-Église brought the memory of Micheline immediately back to us.

Real French dressing, in our kitchen, is not orange. It’s instead a mustard vinaigrette, made according to Micheline’s instructions. This dressing is also great on boiled potatoes and boiled eggs. You may want to double or triple the recipe. And always use Maille mustard from France, now readily available in East Tennessee markets.

Micheline Williams’ Homemade Salad Dressing

1 small shallot

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 heaping teaspoon Maille mustard from France

3 tablespoons peanut oil

Salt and pepper to taste

A few fresh chives, snipped, or any other fresh herb you like and have on hand

Mince the shallots and place in a large bowl. Add the red wine vinegar and mustard. Mix well. Add the oil, salt, and pepper and mix or whisk well. Stir in the chives or whatever fresh herb you use. Tarragon, oregano, or basil are also good options.

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