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Southern Salads: Cracker Salad

Libby Wiersema Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 30 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.
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There’s nothing quite like a good tomato sandwich, right? Wrong. For plenty of Southerners, the cracker salad is a favorite stand-in. When the tomatoes start ripening on the vine, the season has arrived for cracker salad.

The Georgia-born dish crossed the state line a long time ago to garner the affection of South Carolinians. It has all the qualities of a good summertime dish: simple ingredients and easy preparation. No fussing over a hot stove to put lunch on the table. Just whip up the salad, spoon it in a bowl and have a seat at the table. A Southern lunch doesn’t get any easier—or tastier—than this.

So, what is cracker salad? Rest assured, there’s nothing bougie about it—just three common ingredients mixed together in a bowl: chopped tomatoes, crumbled saltines and mayonnaise. (Duke’s brand, known for being extra tangy, is the overwhelming preference across South Carolina.) Slices of green onion and chopped parsley are sometimes added for a little color, but not mandatory. If you want to conjure the essence of a BLT, add crumbled bacon and serve on a bed of lettuce. While you can mix in whatever you dream up—hard-boiled egg, cheese, green pepper—sticking with the basics is the way most South Carolinians prepare their cracker salad.

Note, this isn’t one of those dishes that needs to sit a spell in refrigeration to achieve deliciousness. To keep the crackers crispy, serve this salad immediately. The juices in the tomatoes will quickly turn those saltines to mush, so crumble them, toss them in the bowl, give it a light mix and dish it out. If cracker salad is your assigned dish for a potluck or church supper, prep the ingredients, pack them into containers and put it together on the spot. If you must prepare cracker salad a little in advance, place your chopped tomatoes on layers of paper towels to wick off some of the juices before adding them to the salad. Company coming? Go ahead and use a fancier cracker—anything buttery will do. But you are likely to get rave reviews either way.

Fresh, creamy and crispy. Make this cracker salad and enjoy a summertime tradition that’s become a Southern classic.

Southern Cracker Salad
4 ripe tomatoes (fresh off the vine, if possible)
¾ cup Duke’s mayonnaise (or your preferred brand)
1 sleeve of saltines, coarsely crumbled
Salt and pepper to taste

Coarsely chop the tomatoes and mix with mayonnaise. Add the crumbled crackers and lightly toss. Add salt as needed. Give it several turns of the pepper grinder for added zest. Serve right away. Chase with a tall glass of iced sweet tea.

Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 30 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.