Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Joys of Jello Salad: Because sometimes Jello makes life better

So here I am after a 2 month hiatus, and what do I choose to write about? Jello salad. Makes perfect sense, right? Follow me on this.

When I went to the supermarket this week, I ventured down the candy aisle, because we may have a camp out this weekend, and camp outs require S'mores, which require marshmallows. Then I decided to check the back of the mini marshmallow bag to see if they had a receipe for Rice Krispy bars. (I have tried to make Rice Krispy bars without a recipe, and it was a complete failure). Not only did the bag have a Rice Krispy recipe, it also had the recipe for Watergate Salad.

If you've never had Watergate Salad, just wait till the end of this column, because I'm going to give you the recipe, and it's so easy. I still remember the first time I ate it. It wasn't at home; my mother never made Watergate Salad in her life. She cooked mostly out of the More-With-Less Cookbook, which, in its chapter on salads, sternly informed the reader that "Too many salad recipes read like dessert - gelatin mix, whipped cream, sweetened canned fruit ..." When we had jello, it was made with orange juice and plain gelatin, or had carrots in it. Just not the same. That being said, she made great chocolate cake and chocolate chip cookies on a regular basis, so I don't hold the orange juice jello against her.

Grandma Rhoda was different, and it was in the little brick rancher on Sprecher Road (which always smelled like fresh bread) that I first ate Watergate Salad. We had gone there for dinner on Sunday, into that tidy house with the corner china closet, the chenille-like sofa with the afghan draped over the back, the painted china lamp, and upholstered rocking chair. We all sat down around the table, which had been moved into the living room, and extended its full length. I don't remember the rest of the menu, but based on what she served over the years it was probably ham, ham loaf or roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, succotash made with home frozen corn and lima beans, a cut glass platter of celery, perhaps sweet potato croquettes, buttered noodles, and angel food cake. There was also a glass bowl of something strangely light green: "Watergate Salad." One bite of the Cool Whip, pistachio pudding, marshmallow and nuts, and I loved it. From that time on, I looked for this concoction at every reunion and fellowship meal, and gleefully helped myself.

Fast forward to the early years of marriage, when I borrowed mom's cookbooks. In the salad chapter of the Black Rock cookbook, what should I find but my old friend, Watergate Salad. I hadn't realized how easy it was to make, and proudly made a bowlful for us that week. Nate liked it but wasn't crazy about it, and I decided it had better remain an occasional treat, or I'd eat way too much.

Most of the time I try to eat healthfully, and avoid jello and instant pudding, which, let's face it, is pretty much pure sugar. But there are times when my inner Mennonite cannot be denied; times when a meal feels a little skimpy, and needs something to round it out, times when life seems the better for a touch of sweetness. In that light, I present my two favorite jello salad recipes. If it makes you feel better, call them dessert.

Watergate Salad:

3 1/2 oz pack pistachio instant pudding
9 oz container Cool Whip
20 oz can crushed pineapple
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup mini marshmallow

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Chill. That's it.

Cranberry Orange Salad

6 oz. pack orange jello
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 16 oz. can jellied cranberry sauce
1 8 3/4 oz can crushed pineapple, drained
1/2 cup diced celery

Dissolve jello in boiling water, add cranberry sauce. Chill until thickened; stir in pineapple and celery. Pour into mold and chill until firm. If it makes you feel healthier, unmold "onto crisp salad greens."

p.s. I am aware the Watergate Salad is technically not a jello salad, but I lump all the jello/pudding/canned fruit/cool whip concoctions into that class. And it's my blog :)

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