Years ago, I worked on a PR project for a local restaurant that required me to peruse all kinds of delicious food writing. In the book Home Cooking, Laurie Colwin had this to say about chicken salad:
“Like the little black dress, it is chic and adaptable and can be taken anywhere.”
Of course, as Ms. Colwin explains, chicken salad wasn’t always this versatile.
“In the old days, chicken salad was served either to children, or at tea rooms to ladies who had been shopping and wanted a light lunch. If you remember your Nancy Drew mysteries, you will recall that Nancy and her chums, wearing their sport frocks, would jump into Nancy’s roadster and after chasing a nasty thief or smuggler, would stop at a tea room and eat chicken salad and homemade rolls with iced tea.”
Right on, Ms. Colwin. In fact, that’s the exact meal that Nancy and her chums enjoy in Password to Larkspur Lane!
Mrs. Schneider turned to Nancy. “Once Effie stops mooning about movie stars and singers, she’s really a good worker and a dandy cook.”
Nancy had her doubts about this, but later was agreeably surprised when Effie prepared a delicious luncheon of chicken salad, hot rolls, and iced tea.
Chicken salad is one of those unassuming dishes that is tasty, yet unobtrusive. Perhaps that’s why it’s one of Nancy’s favorite meals. It never demands her full attention and cannot distract her from her goals.
Mrs. Carrier chose cream of tomato soup and chicken salad…The others ordered simple luncheons and the waitress went off…While eating, Nancy and her friends tried not to talk about the mystery but it kept popping up. (The Crooked Banister)
Aunt Rosemary, sensing that her mother was becoming alarmed by the questions, suggested that they all have lunch. The two girls went with her to the kitchen and helped prepare a tasty meal of chicken salad, biscuits, and fruit gelatin. During the meal, the conversation covered several subjects, but always came back to the topic of the mystery. (The Hidden Staircase)
And, of course, chicken salad could never distract Bess from her goals, either!
“Umm! Chicken salad with fresh tomatoes. And girls, look at that big, big chocolate cake!”
“Bess Marvin,” George said severely, “you leave that chocolate cake alone.” (Clue of the Tapping Heels)
In my experience, there are two main types of chicken salad. They both have the same mayonnaise/chicken base, but one plays up this savory flavor while the other adds sweetness with nuts and grapes. In the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, it’s never made clear what kind of chicken salad Nancy prefers. It’s a mystery!
Or it would be, if I didn’t happen to have The Nancy Drew Cookbook…
Sure enough, the cookbook has a recipe for Diary Chicken Salad. And to settle the debate, this chicken salad calls for grapes, almonds, mandarin orange sections and banana slices — and is served on pineapple rings! So there you go.
Now, the real mystery is..why is it called “Diary Chicken Salad” if The Clue in the Diary is one of the few books in which Nancy doesn’t eat chicken salad?