Virgin Recipe: Under-the-Sea Pear Salad

photo from book, loaf-shaped two-layer lime gelatin mold

Under-the-Sea Pear Salad, circa 1974

Under-the-Sea Pear Salad is kind of a weird-looking and weird-sounding recipe that I considered including with the savory recipes, mainly because of the cream cheese, and because of the way it looks in the photo in the book. Also, “Under-the-Sea” seems to suggest that there might be shrimp in it (and we already know that NJoJ is not above such things). Something about it scared me.

Let’s face it, the “Under-the-Sea” part of the name is enigmatic. What does it mean? Is the lime Jell-O top layer supposed to represent the ocean? And why are there pear bits under it? I feel like this whole thing is more of a metaphor than a dessert – but a metaphor for what?

Despite all the deep thinking this recipe engendered, the preparation was fairly straightforward, although there were the usual 43-years-on hiccups. While the recipe calls for a 16-ounce can of pear halves, such cans are now 15 ounces. (I bought an additional 8.5-ounce can so that I could add a little more fruit. Most of the pear halves got chopped up into coarse chunks first and stowed in the fridge.) The recipe also calls for two three-ounce packages of cream cheese, which just sounds weird to me, because for as long as I can remember cream cheese has typically been available in eight-ounce blocks. (I bought one of those and measured out six ounces on the kitchen scale, no biggie.)

The base of Under-the-Sea Pear Salad is a single batch of lime Jell-O, to which a little salt and lemon juice are added. Instead of cold water, 3/4 cup of juice from the canned pears is used. I set aside about a half-cup of the liquid gelatin, thickened the rest over an ice water bath, put it in the mold to form the top layer, and put that in the fridge to firm up a bit more while I dealt with the cream cheese layer.

That was a little trickier. The cream cheese is supposed to be softened and “creamy”, but even though it was quite warm yesterday, the cream cheese didn’t get very soft after sitting out for a while. I tried beating it with a wooden spoon, but it remained defiant. There was only one thing for it. I put it in the stand mixer and gave it the cheesecake treatment. After beating it as well as I could with a power tool, I added the liquid gelatin and beat it some more, pausing a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl while hoping that all those little lumps of cream cheese would get thoroughly incorporated into the gelatin.

Mercifully, the mixture did eventually homogenize, and then I added the now-cold pear chunks, which helped thicken the cream cheese/gelatin mixture and made it easier to spoon it over the barely-firm jelly layer. A good long overnight chill yielded this:

round two-layer lime Jell-O mold on Blue Heaven platter

Under-the-Sea Pear Salad á la Freak Mountain

I’m pretty happy with the way this turned out, appearance-wise. It came out of the mold easily, and the canned pear halves turned out to be just the right size for a garnish on top of the mold. I don’t imagine this looked particularly appetizing to Bryan, but I like the dark and light green layers, and it did look appetizing to me.

For eating, this turned out to be a lot better than it sounded just from reading the recipe. Lime is still my favorite flavor of Jell-O, so it had that going for it at the outset. Not a lot of the recipes in the book include pears, so those made a nice change.

I didn’t love the cream cheese layer. The main reason I can think of is that tangy, cheesy flavor didn’t go all that well with the Jell-O, which is odd because the usual bavarians with whipped toppings tend to be too sweet. I almost forgot to mention that the cream cheese layer was flavored with an eight of a teaspoon of powered ginger, or I should say “supposed to be flavored”, because although I used more like 3/16 teaspoon, the ginger was barely detectable as a faint aftertaste. Maybe. Some diced crystallized ginger would have been better.

Finally, the texture of the cream cheese was possibly a little too thick. After Bryan finished eating his portion, he was licking his lips and his palate like a dog that’s been given a spoonful of peanut butter. Not a good look.

Okay, this is pretty obvious but you know I had to include it…

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