Friday, June 5, 2009


Pink salad is not necessarily pink, nor is it always classified as salad. The dozens of variations to the genre are variously known as “Five Cup,” “Fruit Delight,” “Angel Salad,” “Frozen Cherry Delight,” and so on for as long as the little spiral-bound church cookbooks shall last. Some float a raft of marshmallows, either cut-up-with-scissors big ‘uns or a whole flotilla of the little buoys.

One recipe, from a much-loved cook at the cafeteria at a local hospital, throws the poufy little pillows right into the boiling water WITH the Black Cherry Jello, to melt into a creamy liquidity which, before it congeals, is whipped with the mixer into a high-mounded mousse effect, studded with huge Bing cherries in surprising places. Bing Jello Day was well-attended by hospital personnel, almost as well as the rare day that Willie Mae would make her incomparable Paminna Cheese.

Some salads are definitely Jello-ish, with the addition of a scanty-watered box of any flavor, which may or may not congeal, but are still included in the “Congealed Salad” category, like last cousins still must be claimed, no matter what.

A few of the recipes call for the fruit/marshmallows/nuts, etc to be sprinkled with a whole or partial box of dry Jello, and woe betide the cook who fails to stir properly, thus setting down a freckled salad on the Church Supper buffet.

The single common denominator in the whole world of Jello salads, that universe of shredded cabbage and marshmallows, of floating bananas and sinking grapes, of mutilated mandarins and scary-dyed cottage cheese---seems to be crushed pineapple, which has been known to take on a garish hue on occasion, itself. Tall can or small can---that’s specified as the beginning, and then you go from there. The gooshy pineapple and its juice serve to moisten and plump the marshmallows for Five-Cup (one each of pineapple, marshmallows, sour cream, Cool Whip and whatever other canned fruit suits your fancy---all depending on the area you live in). And it's the cornerstone of almost every combination of marshmallows/Cool Whip/sour cream/Jello in any and all of its permutations.

And so Pink Salad is most of the above, with the addition of any red flavor of Jello---cook’s choice. I, myself, favor Strawberry, because I favor Strawberry for most things, have a meh feeling about cherry, and absolutely abhor raspberry anything. But that’s just me. I’m sure great crowds of church-goers and picnickers and families reunioning have consumed vast bowls of every flavor there is. And in the Bible Belt, with Southern Baptist a prevalent religious avowal, I find a gentle secret chuckle in the fact that "Do the Cool Whip" is practically a cultural dance.

Congealed in loaf pans and sliced, unmolded in gorgeous fluted shapes, served in trifle bowls or with the colors muted through Tupperware's greige translucence---those salads have a long history, especially in the South. One lady at our church was surrounded every time she stepped into the door of the Fellowship Hall with one of her loaf pans upside down on a plate, its silvery sides frosted with the telltale rime of the frozen treat within. She’d go into the kitchen, spread a few lettuce leaves on a platter, dip the loaf pan in warm water and flip the thick pink brick onto the plate. A garnish of a few red candied apple slices, and the masterpiece was done. She deftly sliced it into perhaps twelve slices, and the lucky (pushy) few lined up first grabbed it all up and made away with it, though it was originally destined for the dessert table.

There’s everything from Sawdust Salad---a red-Jello strata in a 9x13 pyrex, to get the best effect; strawberries in the gelatin, a cooked layer with crushed pineapple spread on, another Jello, a cream cheese/powdered sugar layer, and a great flurry of extra-sharp Kraft atop, thus the “sawdust” moniker---to Pretzel Salad---named for the crust made with crushed pretzels, beneath the Jello layer---to my own personal favorite---Dream Salad.

That one I first tasted when my children were just babies---we’d gone to visit an aunt overnight, and she had a Tupperware of it waiting in the fridge for Sunday Dinner. I think I remember it so vividly because that was the first overnight I think we’d ever been invited to since the children were born, and I remember the entire trip---silly things like playing Jacks with the two pre-teen girls of the house, and that we had a cookout on Saturday night, wherein the host made his famous “barbecue burgers” which featured stirring a lot of Kraft sauce into the raw hamburger, with my trying to form the wet slippery mass into appropriate patties, and how they burned on both sides when that tomatoey sauce started to char.

And Sunday dinner was a Co-Cola baked ham, Aunt Ruby's famous macaroni and cheese (her MIL’s version, with cheese, three eggs, and a cup of sugar stirred into the cooked spaghetti and baked---an ewwww moment that I tried to conceal, though I AM fond of kugel). And the Dream Salad, which I thought was the most wonderful thing---I’d been cooking all my life, but the combination of pineapple, cottage cheese, mayo, toasted pecans and lime jello, all solidified into a silky clump on the spoon---it was just scrumptious at that time, with that rosy ham and the homemade rolls.

We went to MCL cafeteria night-before-last, for a quick early supper, and reached simultaneously toward the row of pastel pink blocks with their tiny white studs of marshmallow. It’s a homey, hackneyed old chestnut, but it’s ours, and we enjoy it---comfort food at its meltiest.

Jello anything at a teaparty is probably unthinkably foreign to those not of and from the South, but a Delta tea-table without the obligatory 9x13 or footed bowl of some kind of pastel cloud---that’s like leaving the sugar out of the tea.


Tonja said...

I loved this! And it is so right on! As a Deep South Southern Baptist, I've eaten many, many of those 'jello/cool whip' masterpieces. One of the first things I learned to make and be 'right proud' of was the pistachio salad...using the pistachio flavor jello...and the CW, and marshmallows, and I forget now just what else. I have that recipe for the salad with the crushed pretzels, but only made it once as I didn't like the two together. My mom has a version of congealed salad, that has become a traditional favorite at all the big family gatherings. It is the only thing 'lime' that I can stand. And, yes, sometimes she changes it and uses cherry, but the lime is the best. It was always called Mom's Congealed salad...which my sister and I shortened to 'geal' salad. Everyone knew just what we were talking about...and still do. I tried a a new salad at my 'pool party' last month. It was a frozen version...and was quite tasty. Thank goodness there are these kind of tasty treats...easy to put together...and yummy tasting, for those of us who lack more advanced culinary skills!

OnrushPam said...

My favorite has always been the frozen fruit salad served at Stephensons Apple Farm in KCMO. (I think it has closed now). It has nary a speck of Jello, but does have the cut-up marshmallows and REAL whipped cream! I'll have to find my recipe for it. I found a "copy cat" recipe online, but it's not right. It calls for 2 tbls. marachino cherries and I know my recipe calls for a good deal more frozen bing cherries, thawed and chopped. I haven't made it for years. Time for a recipe archeology expedition!

racheld said...

I'm quite fond of almost all the different types and flavors, and I do admit, that after the lime, that Bing mousse thing would be lovely to make. If you have the recipe, Pam, I'd love to post it. You have my e-mail.

And Tonja---don't we all call the foods of home by the names they were called by us as children? That's one of the charms of Grandma's or Mammaw's or Nonna's table---settling into the old family traditions after an absence as if you'd never left.

And how I'd love to sit down at my Mammaw's table just one more time! And don't be modest---I've SEEN your culinary skills, and they're terrific.

~~louise~~ said...

I've only recently been introduced to the "joys" of Jell-O. My daughter lives in Idaho. Only a state away from what some would say is the Jell-O capital of the world. Green is #1 in Utah.

As a grandmother of two children who are being raised Mormon and Catholic, it is I who is on the receiving end of "Pink Salad" and "Dream Salad, just to mention two. My last visit to Idaho concluded with a Mormon sponsored Mother and Daughter Tea. Lo and behold congealed loaves everywhere! I went for the petit fours:)

racheld said...

OH, Please DO!!!!

They're featured in the "Individual Iced Cakes" post.

So glad to have you here!! We can thank Karen for the introduction.

RobinfromCA said...

Oh, I love this post!! Being of the Mormon persuasion I can affirm the Jello obsession in our church. There is always a table of rainbow colored congealed dishes at every gathering! And Louise is right - green Jello is #1 in Utah and they tend to put carrots in it. (It's blech so I don't know why - but I did buy a green Jello trading pin when we were there for the Olympics!)

In our family "Pink Salad" is of the non-cook variety. Just stir together the cottage cheese, Cool Whip, Jello (always raspberry because my mom can't have strawberry anything) and whatever fruit. Throw it in the fridge and voila! Two hours later - salad. Even when I make it with orange Jello and mandarin oranges everyone just calls it "orange pink salad." What can I say - we're Californians. BTW - I refuse crushed pineapple for the very mutations you mention. Pineapple chunks are fine for me. ;-)


racheld said...

just had to make a little bowl with "chunks" when I grabbed a flat little can, mistaking it for crushed, when we were having chicken casserole, and you have to have 5-cup with it. It's the LAW.

I just held a little sharp knife vertically, slicing little wedges as I turned the can, and it turned out fine.

(I learned THAT trick from my Mammaw, who could dismember a "tall" can with a long ham-slicing knife quicker than you could blink. And the little corner store was always OUT of crushed, so we made do).

I also tried the Watergate recipe, with pistachio pudding, but it was SO SWEEEEET!!

Was the pin of a box of lime, or an actual little teeny salad?
I'm SO glad you're here!