Once upon a time salad was a mix of raw vegetables dressed with vinegar, oil, and herbs. In 77 AD Pliny the Elder defined salad as a dish composed of garden products that "needed no fire for cooking and saved fuel, and which were a resource to store and always ready." He went on to say that, "they were easy to digest and were not calculated to overload the senses or stimulate the appetite."
Galen, Greek surgeon and philosopher, later encouraged diners to eat salad before the main dish because "raw vegetables easily slipped through the system and did not create obstructions for what followed." Those with more refined palates argued that salad should be served last because the vinegar in the dressing destroyed the taste of the wine. So the main question concerning salad for centuries was simply, "Before the main course or after the main course?"
The introduction of Jell-O at the turn of the twentieth century and the debut of Mrs. John E. Cook's Perfection Salad in a 1904 cooking contest changed the question of salad for at least a century. Her congealed salad took 3rd place earning her a sewing machine valued at $100.00. She hailed the salad as an economical use of week old produce that might otherwise go bad. The recipe for congealed salad started a decades long food trend to encase vegetables, fruit, or meat in Jell-O gelatin. The mixture should be chilled in a mold and then carefully released onto a platter and garnished with other vegetables. It should then be topped with generous dollops of mayonnaise and served with grilled meats or fish. It did not take long for Jell-O salads to be church potluck favorites.
Below is the original recipe for Perfection Salad. It was made with plain gelatin but later recipes called for Celery, Mixed Veggie, or Italian Salad flavored Jell-O. When these delights were pulled from grocery shelves in 1966 many women poured their wilted veggies into lime flavored Jell-O. Hey! It's green, isn't it? Green counts as a vegetable, right?
2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1½ cups boiling water
1½ cups cold water
½ cups vinegar
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 cups finely shredded cabbage
1 cup chopped celery
¼ cup chopped green pepper
¼ cup diced pimento
⅓ cup stuffed green olives, sliced
Thoroughly mix together 2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin, ½ cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium sized heat proof bowl. Add boiling water and stir for a full 2 minutes to completely dissolve gelatin. Then add cold water, vinegar, and lemon juice.
Let mixture chill in the refrigerator until partially set. This may take 1½ hours but check after 1 hour. As the gelatin is setting prepare all vegetables as directed in ingredient list.
Place all vegetables in a large mixing bowl and very gently mix together. Set aside. Lightly spray an 8½ x 4½ x 2½ inch glass loaf pan with non-stick spray. Set aside. When gelatin has partially set gently fold in vegetables and pour into prepared pan. Chill the salad until firm. this may take several hours.
To unmold salad place serving platter upside down over chilled salad then slowly tip the salad so that the platter is now on the bottom and the salad may release from its mold and onto the serving platter. Garnish the salad with greens, carrots curls, and green olives or other garnishes of your choice. Dollop generous portions of mayonnaise on salad for an especially festive presentation.
Note to friends of the Kitchen: If you try this vintage marvel please write to Mimi's Kitchen and tell us what your guests said. Should this be served before the meal or after? With wine or without? More importantly, should this be served only after plenty of wine has been consumed?