Picture it: you're at a potluck, moving down the table and seeing the classics - potato salad, pasta salad, and a bowl of nicely arranged greens. And then you see it. A bright, jiggly dish full of fruits and vegetables, perhaps some cheese, all suspended in gelatine (bonus if it's a flashy shade of Jell-O).
Love them or hate them, gelatine salads represent a key moment in North American culinary history. While gelatine has been refined and used around the world for centuries, as we now know gelatine can be traced back to Victorian England. The Victorian upper crust loved their gelatine salads, in part for the decorative potential of these novel “congealed salads”.
Later, during the 1920s and 30s, instant brands of gelatine, like Jell-O and Knox, became affordable protein-rich staples in home kitchens.
As a result of their commercial success, companies began sharing new ways to use their products. For instance, gelatine salads became a way for households to preserve and stretch leftovers.
And then came the 1950s.
The popularity of gelatine salads and dishes soared after World War II. For better or worse, a combination of technological advances in homes, post-war prosperity, and a desire for a creative cooking outlet led to the golden age of gelatine salads in communities across North America, including our very own Sherwood Park.
When I was digging through the archives, I came across several cook books dedicated specifically to gelatine creations. While the sweeter deserts featured in these books often sound delicious, the savoury dishes that were included in these books fascinated me.
Naturally, I took the opportunity to make a few of the dishes for my (very patient and supportive) colleagues.
On the menu?
Pineapple Cheese Salad (front): A marvelous combination of whipped cream, sharp cheddar cheese, and pineapple, garnished with a generous serving of mayonnaise, bell pepper, and Vienna sausages.
Viennese Salad (back): Don’t let the name fool you, this salad is a rift on a classic American tomato aspic, layered with olives, asparagus jelly, finished off with cubed mayonnaise, sliced tomatoes, and romaine lettuce.
Surprisingly, both these salads came together easily. Convenience cooking innovations like
pre-portioned gelatine envelopes, tinned fruit and vegetables, condensed soup, and my trusty
refrigerator made quick work of these elaborate dishes – truly, it took longer to decorate these
beauties than to make them!
Between their cheap ingredients and quick prep time, these salads were perfect for me playing
hostess. But what did my taste testers think? Check out Strathma’s latest video to see how
Pineapple Cheese Salad and Viennese Salad tasted!