By Sylvia R. Tawse
This story begins in the 1940s, with a top fashion model and her classic recipe (shared below!). She was the top cover model at the time, long before the term ‘super model’ was coined. She was Bettina Bolegarde, raised by an expat Canadian mother in Paris, where she dreamt of being a ballerina. Instead, she was discovered as a teenager by the photographer Willy Mable. Soon, Vogue, Life, and Glamour covers followed.
She is also my mother-in-law. Sadly, Bettina passed 15 years before I fell in love with her son. While she stares at me with that elegant gaze from framed covers in our home, I knew her not except through a quilt of stories. There is no way this Mother’s Day for us to send her a card or bouquet. But, we can celebrate her through something as simple as the salad and vinaigrette we choose to make.
Bettina’s legacy lives today in her children, grandchildren, and in me. This is mostly thanks to one frequently used recipe: Bettina’s Classic French Vinaigrette.
You see, Bettina was so much more than a fashion model. She was an enthusiastic gardener, forager, and cook, inclined to peasant food traditions. And for this I am most grateful to Bettina: she passed on all of these hobbies and skills to my husband, and I have now enjoyed nearly three decades of cooking and eating with her son and our children.
Bettina’s Classic French Vinaigrette is more than a recipe. It is a ritual, and a culinary form of DNA that can be tasted and shared today and for generations to come. It is also, like the woman who shared it, beautifully straightforward.
Think of this as a simple formula. You may scale it up or down in size, and make it more high-acid and tart, as the French adore, or less so if your taste buds prefer. Make a double batch and use it on salads and more—it’s divine on steamed asparagus or green beans, roasted beets or carrots, with grains and herbs for hearty grain bowls, or as a dip for veggies. Bettina’s favorite acid was always white wine vinegar, but feel free to play around.
1 part extra-virgin olive oil (example: one cup)
1/3-part to ½-part (example: 1/3- cup or ½-cup) acid of choice: white, sherry, or red wine vinegar, or lemon juice
Minced green onions or garlic to taste
1 heaping spoonful of Dijon mustard
Dried tarragon, sea salt, and black pepper to taste
Shake in a jar; adjust seasoning to your preference. When sampling, make sure you do so on an actual leaf of lettuce to best gauge the flavor. The dressing will keep in a fridge for up to two weeks. When ready to serve, do so at room temperature.
Each of our kids have grown up with their grandmother’s no-fuss French vinaigrette and been taught how to make it. By memorizing this basic recipe, they can create dozens of dishes on the fly in any country or zip code. Through this vinaigrette tradition, they know their grandmother beyond faded magazine covers.
In all cultures, we humans pass down stories, from those shared around the bonfire to 280-character tweets. Recipes are an important part of tradition and should not be taken for granted. For Earthbound Farm’s Salad Month, I encourage you do the same: Celebrate a beloved family member’s recipe, pass it down, and share it with your loved ones. You won’t just be preparing a delicious salad, but will also be connecting to family across borders and time. Better yet, share your recipe in the comments on our Facebook or Instagram, for others to try and enjoy.
Thank you, Bettina and Happy Mother’s Day. Through your wisdom, your recipes, and your techniques, we really do know you, today. We promise to carry on your tradition of loving true food and flavors.
Sylvia R. Tawse is a longtime friend of Earthbound Farm and has worked in the organic industry since the 1980’s. She and her husband own and run a 35-acre organic flower and vegetable farm in Longmont, CO and eat many foods anointed with Bettina’s vinaigrette each week.