Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I Don't Think You're Ready for this Jelly

I could hardly host a Home Wreck themed dinner party without sticking to the theme in every last detail. Hell, as you've seen, I even dress the part. This has been a little bit of a problem when it comes to preparing a full meal. Since my cookbook is specifically about meats, I've had to look elsewhere for vintage side dish recipes. Luckily, in a decidedly non-1960s twist, the Internet is chock-full of archived recipes. With a little quick searching I came across a recipe from the December 1960 issue of Better Homes and Gardens titled "Perfection Salad." How could anything with that name not be good?

Easily. You know how they say "Don't mess with perfection"? Yeah, I think they're referring to this salad. It consists of shredded cabbage, chopped celery, green pepper and pimiento, all cleverly presented in a mold of clear gelatin. Oh, and it looks a little something like this:


Essentially the gelatin takes the place of a traditional vinegar-based dressing, but who really wants their dressing to slimily slide down their tongue? The answer amongst my friends was no one.

I have to say, I understand the appeal of making gelatin molds, because they are like a weird science/art project, and I was really proud to show my work to my friends, but I won't be making "Perfection Salad" ever again.

Though I discovered there's a reason why this recipe is dead, I'm glad I chose it. After some more fancy shmancy Internet research, I've discovered that "Perfection Salad" is a pretty important recipe in the history of American housewife cooking. As it turns out, there's a book and even a blog titled "Perfection Salad." According to "Better Homes and Gardens:

"Once upon a time, in 1904 to be exact, a recipe called Perfection Salad won third prize, a $100 sewing machine, for Mrs. John E. Cook of New Castle, Pennsylvania.

Among the judges was Fannie Farmer of cooking school fame, crusader for level measures. The first and second prize entries in the “receipt” contest are forgotten, but the runner-up is here to stay.

Perfection Salad has been a winner at the dinner table for generations. It was originally published in a gelatin advertisement the year following that contest of long ago and was described as a “delicious accompaniment to cold sliced chicken or veal.” Mrs. Cook herself said it was “especially fine with fried oysters” and wrote in her entry that she planned to have it at her next church supper.

So excellent was Mrs. Cook’s recipe that today’s version is amazingly like hers. Through the years, we have printed popular Perfection Salad many times."

So, there you have it: "Perfection Salad" is hardly perfection, but it is a perfect example of classic 60s cooking.

Perfection Salad

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens recipe published December 1960

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 vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 large green olives stuffed with pimientos sliced into halves or thirds
2 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup chopped celery
1/3 cup chopped pimiento
1/2 cup chopped green pepper

Mix gelatin, sugar, and salt. Add boiling water and stir until gelatin dissolves. Add cold water, vinegar, lemon juice and chill until partly set. Pour 1/2 cup in a ring mold (I actually used a greased bunt pan because I don't own real Jello molds) and arrange slices of olives in mold. Chill until set. Mix the remaining gelatin with the cabbage, green pepper, pimiento, celery, and green pepper. Pour over gelatin in mold and chill until set.

To easily turn it out on a platter, put the platter on top of the mold and then flip it and let it sit until it slides out of the mold on its own. If need be, you may help this along by rubbing a hot rag on the outside of the mold.

Once you've turned it out on the platter, you can play with the presentation by filling the center with baby carrots (the Better Homes recipe calls for cooked can carrots marinated in Italian dressing) and surrounding it with cabbage leaves (a special shout out to Erica who helped with this part of things).

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