The Southern Spread
Our culture, our history, our spirit, and our hospitality are some of the ingredients. Southern foods are heavily influenced by African, English, Scottish, Irish, French, and Native-American cuisine, and although most of them are served across the country today, there are foods in the U.S. that are strictly thought of as SOUTHERN. There’s Creole, Lowcountry and Floribbean, and I’m not sure where fried chicken and deviled eggs fit into the mix, but to be certain, they perform with a southern accent. In “The Southern Spread,” we’re exploring southern foods and traditions.
This Week’s Feature:
Surprisingly, congealed salads weren’t invented in the South; they originated in Pennsylvania. But, we southerners grabbed onto the concept and ran with it. No self-respecting southern ladies’ luncheon, potluck supper, or funeral reception of the 1960s would have taken place without the inclusion of at least one. Made with Jell-O and fruit, sometimes nuts, celery, grated carrots, cottage cheese, or cream cheese, congealed salads were, and often, still are, a southern staple. The gelatinous concoctions are also made using plain gelatin, combined with chicken, tuna, beef, or juices — for example, spiced tomato juice for Tomato Aspic. While I’m personally a big fan of Aspic, the ones made with meats or fish have always sort of made me cringe. But, this brings me to the admission that I’m a big fan of congealed salads in most other forms. I find the ones made with Jell-O, fruit, and nuts refreshing, and, I particularly like them when I don’t feel well. They’re sort of comfort food for me when I’m sick, like — you know — grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.
There’s a rather infamous holiday congealed salad in my family that is the bane of existence for most of my family members, but I continue to include it in many Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It was often the assignment given to me by my sister for Christmas Eve dinners, including the one when, unbeknownst to me, the salad hadn’t set, and when I exited the car with it at my sister’s house — Quel bordel! Raspberry and cherry Jell-O juice, cherries, crushed pineapple, nuts, Coca-Cola, and cream cheese drenched the front of my blue wool sweater and houndstooth wool skirt, finally coming to rest in my cordovan Bass Weejuns. Needless to say, we didn’t have the salad for that dinner, and when I was loading up the dish and remains to take home at the end of the night, the name “Coca-Cola Salad” was changed to something I can’t get away with printing here. The stains and the new name stuck, however, and, I continue to serve it — to the dismay and bewilderment of my family — in spite of the fact that it still sometimes doesn’t set. I am nothing, if not determined.
Today, foodies and food purists wouldn’t touch a congealed fruit salad with a ten-foot pole, both because of the sugar content and the artificial flavors. It’s the topic of a lot of food blogs like The Gallery of Regrettable Food, for those reasons, and more. Hey, a lot of people don’t like Jell-O salad anymore for the very fact that they, too, were served it when they were sick, so, it’s a reminder of something unpleasant. But, I’d be willing to bet that you could go to many a church basement social or southern holiday dinner and find at least one of the shining, jiggly, molded salads in attendance, because I’m pretty certain I’m not the only Southerner who’s willing to admit to liking the colorful concoctions.
Below is the recipe for the infamous “Coca-Cola Salad,” which is found in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana Junior League cookbook, River Roads. (One of my favorite and most used cookbooks) Add a little extra gelatin to the original recipe and make certain all of the ingredients combine thoroughly after adding the Coca-Cola, to help it set. It’s delicious — when it works! Just eat it with a spoon, if it doesn’t!
(Perfect for Thanksgiving or Christmas)
RIVER ROAD RECIPES
Published by The Junior League of Baton Rouge, Louisiana
One eight-ounce package Cream cheese (frozen)
Two eight ounce Coca-Colas, (partially frozen)
One can seedless white cherries
One package raspberry flavor gelatin
One package cherry flavor gelatin
One large can crushed pineapple
One cup pecan chips
Dissolve gelatin in juices (heated) from the cherries and the pineapple. Then add the cokes, cherries, pineapple, and nuts. Grate the frozen cream cheese over the top of the mold (or molds) to give the appearance of snow. Place in the refrigerator to congeal. The “frozen cokes” make the congealing faster. Serves 10
Mrs. Malcolm Servier
Photos: Deborah Fagan Carpenter