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Would you eat molded salad with shrimp frosting?

Food columnist Holly Ebel digs into vintage "salad" recipes for the Fourth of July.

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When Jell-O introduced fruit-flavored gelatin, recipes like these proliferated. (Contributed image)
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It's hard to believe the Fourth of July is almost here — wasn't it just June 1?

For the second time in as many months, we can get together with friends and family to celebrate the holiday. We all know that food is an important part of the festivities, especially the traditional dishes we've had over the years. So, what'll it be this year — brats, hot dogs, burgers, chicken (fried or grilled)? For the sides, probably favorites like baked beans and corn, and salads. Who's bringing the coleslaw, the potato salad?

There may be a pasta salad, as well as something like a pea salad on the table. Those recipes have been around for years. Historians call them vintage foods. We call them family favorites.

As I was thinking about past July Fourth gatherings, I remembered some of the salads my mother-in-law served, definitely belonging to another time and place — molded or frozen, served on a little plate with a lettuce leaf underneath, maybe a dollop of mayo on top. A tossed green salad was never on her table.

"That's rabbit food," she'd say.

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Those years are a throwback to a time when no one cared about kale, there were no gluten-free or paleo recipes. Healthy eating? Attention to diet? Not so much.

So when we refer to a recipe as "vintage," what exactly does that mean? It needs to be at least 25 years old, tried and true, and handed down, likely with history. Pull out a church cookbook, or a cookbook from the 1950s to '70s. The oldest I have is a 1970 Better Homes and Gardens, which is an education in vintage cooking. Probably the best place is your own recipe box. Go through it — you'll be surprised at what you find or what you'd forgotten about, and the memories it may bring.

What makes a recipe a keeper? It's a matter of personal opinion, but the best indicator is that people still make it.

In the history of salads, however, "molded" salads lead the vintage parade. These became popular in the early 20th century, and were still being made through the 1960s. In fact, they still show up regularly at potlucks, church suppers and reunions. Among the first was Perfection Salad, a winner in a Knox Gelatin contest in 1905. That inspired cooks as few recipes ever have.

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"Perfection Salad" was one of the first molded "salads." (Contributed image)

This was also about the time that Jell-O introduced fruit-flavored gelatin, which set up a storm of these using diced meats, diced fruits, canned fruits and/or vegetables. They even offered flavors like mixed vegetable, celery and seasoned tomato, now long gone.

Especially popular ingredients that were used over and over included mayonnaise, cream cheese, and whipped cream. Canned fruits were also a popular addition. Actually, some of those earlier salads seemed more like a dessert, like Ambrosia, a mixture of fruits, coconut (essential), whipped cream and mini marshmallows.

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A 1946 edition of "The Joy of Cooking" includes 18 pages of molded salad recipes.

Looking through resources, there were some real doozies. How about a molded vegetable salad with shrimp frosting, or a potato salad covered with a mayo-gelatin glaze? Here, let me serve you some cottage cheese and kidney bean salad (stomach turning). Many similar "salads" have fallen by the wayside, thank heavens. Regardless, I have come across some oldies but goodies for you to consider this weekend or sometime over the summer. I definitely plan to. Have a great Fourth!

Knox's Perfection Salad

2 envelopes unflavored gelatin

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups boiling water

1 1/2 cups cold water

1/2 cup white vinegar

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2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 cups finely shredded cabbage

1 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup chopped green pepper

1/4 cup chopped canned pimento

Mix gelatin, sugar and salt. Add boiling water, and stir until gelatin dissolves. Add cold water, vinegar, and lemon juice. Chill mixture until partially set. Add vegetables, and pour into a 6 1/2-cup mold. Chill until firm. Unmold onto crisp greens.

Wales Salad

1 3-ounce package lemon-flavored gelatin

1 cup boiling water

1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

1/2 cup coarsely chopped blanched almonds

1/2 cup chopped pimentos

1/2 cup thinly sliced pimento-stuffed green olives

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup heavy cream, softly whipped

Lettuce leaves

Dissolve gelatin in boiling water in a large heat-proof bowl, and cool. Mix in cheese, almonds, pimentos, olives, salt, and lemon juice. Chill until consistency of unbeaten egg whites, about 30 minutes. Fold in whipped cream, and pour into a 6-cup ring mold, and chill until set, several hours or overnight. Unmold on lettuce.

Molded Waldorf Salad

1 3-ounce package lemon-flavored gelatin

2 cups warm water

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup finely diced tart apples

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1 cup finely diced celery

Lettuce leaves

Dissolve gelatin in warm water; mix in vinegar and salt. Pour a thin layer into a 5-6-cup decorative mold. Chill until tacky — 10-15 minutes. At same time, pour remaining gelatin into a large, shallow pan, and chill until consistency of unbeaten egg white, about 15 minutes. Mix apples, walnuts and celery, and arrange on the tacky layer in mold. Top with remaining gelatin, and chill until firm. To serve, unmold, cut into wedges, and serve on lettuce leaves.

Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to life@postbulletin.com .

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Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to life@postbulletin.com.
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