You might be relieved to know that I was neither looking for nor finding some sort of profound insight in Jellied Fresh Vegetable Salad. It’s really just a Jell-O salad.
Not that there wasn’t an interesting side issue, of course. Over the last week or so I’ve stumbled upon a couple of internet entities (they’re on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Amazon, and probably some other fora I’ve never heard of) that are dedicated to mid-century kitsch. One, Making It Modern, plumbs the depths of vintage cookbooks for the kookiest-sounding recipes, makes and tastes those recipes, and then re-creates them in a contemporary (i.e., more palatable) way. Another, Velveteen Lounge Kitsch-en, is mainly about cocktails but sometimes turns its attention to food kitsch.
Both entities have followers who are similarly fascinated by vintage cookbooks and scary-sounding recipes, but apparently very few of us have the cojones to actually make and eat them. Others do love to post those old, weird-looking photos, though, so lately I’ve been looking at a lot of dishes that are, to be honest, way scarier than anything in The New Joys of Jell-O.
Maybe that’s why, when I made and ate Jellied Fresh Vegetable Salad last weekend, it just didn’t seem all that weird to me.
The preparation was quite straightforward, with a couple of minor hitches. One ingredient, tarragon vinegar, was not available at my local supermarket, so I bought some dried tarragon, googled a recipe, and made my own. I think it turned out all right, though I wasn’t sure whether the aroma I was detecting was the vinegar or the photographic chemicals Bryan had been fooling with earlier in the day.
Another ingredient, two bouillon cubes, was mildly complicated by the fact that bouillon cubes appear to come in a different size than I remember from the 1970s. I misspoke on the video – my recollection is that they were about a centimeter cubed (not a half-centimeter, which would be ridiculously tiny). The cubes I found were much bigger, so I decided to just use one. That seems to have been adequate.
As with the Molded Potato Salad, the Jell-O, vinegar, bouillon and pepper are combined, cooled until slightly thickened, and then blended with the “creamy” ingredient. In this case it was sour cream, which had me craving onion-soup dip and potato chips. (Heaven help me, I think I’m going native!) In both recipes, I found it safe and beneficial to whisk in the creamy ingredients to get a smooth texture. I thickened it over a cold water bath, folded in the veggies, and put it in the molds to chill and firm up.
I had found some small vintage Jell-O branded molds at the Cambridge Antique Market a while ago, and this seemed like a good time to finally put them to use. They turned out to be a good serving size for this dish, and also a close match to the photo in the cookbook. Unfortunately, the Jell-O logo failed to imprint itself in the salad. I blame the lube for that (it will accumulate in the nooks and crannies) but it’s a step I’m not willing to skip.
I’m quite pleased with the way this ended up looking, despite the lack of logo. I daresay it looks better than the 1974 photo. As you can see, the veggies are nicely distributed throughout the mold and give it a festive appearance. My lettuce is rather more, um, assertive, but I like the color.
Now, the weird thing about this is that I actually kind of liked how it tasted. (Stockholm syndrome, maybe?) The vinegar, pepper, and bouillon almost overcame the sweet lemon flavoring, so that the Jell-O part of the salad was more like a ranch dressing. (People like ranch dressing, right?) Meanwhile, the crunchy texture of the vegetables had a satisfying mouthfeel.
I could see doing this with unflavored gelatin, some fresh herbs for seasoning, and a higher proportion and better variety of crisp fresh vegetables. Honestly, this turned out to be not so scary at all (unlike Jellied Prune Whip), though I have to confess that I didn’t eat it all, so I’ve made another donation to Action Against Hunger so that something positive can come from my waste of food.
I’ve also done a tasting video, and I’m less embarrassed by this than I was by the last one. After all my grousing about the drinking culture in New Orleans, I ended up drinking a glass of chilled vinho verde to help me chill out in front of the camera, and that worked out pretty well. (Also, I now have a better understanding of how so many entertainers wind up with substance abuse problems.) Now I just need to figure out how to set loose my sparkling personality. Heh.