Jell-O® salad is a type of side dish prepared by combining Jell-O® or other gelatin with any combination of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and creams. Most Jell-O® salads are formed in decorative molds. They are typically associated with potlucks, picnics, and family gatherings in the United States. While still made by some today, they were most popular in the 1950s and 60s.
Many food critics categorize the Jell-O® salad as a quintessential facet of post-war American cuisine. Families who had grown accustomed to rationing and grocery shortages during the Second World War took particular delight in the bright colors and often extravagant ingredients added to Jell-O® salads. The salad was nevertheless economical, however, and could be made with almost anything a cook happened to have on hand.
For many years, Jell-O® salad was a staple of community gatherings and holiday celebrations. It would have been rare to host a potluck in the U.S. in the 1960s without receiving at least one version of a gelatin salad. Most of the time, families had their own favorite salad recipes, many of which were improvised and improved over time. Jell-O® salad had largely fallen out of the popular cuisine by about 1970, although some cooks continue to make these salads today, mostly from old family recipes. The salads are also quite popular at themed parties and "retro" dinners.
Most Jell-O® salad recipes center on fruit. Jell-O® flavors like lime, pineapple, or orange are typically the most common. Cooks then add bits of grated citrus, canned fruits like pineapple or mandarin oranges, and often nuts. Fruit-based Jell-O® salads are traditionally served with whipped cream.
A great many Jell-O® salads also contain ingredients more common to a normal garden salad. Cucumbers, carrots, celery, olives, and even shredded lettuce can be added to a Jell-O® salad. Salads in this style are often referred to as congealed salad. Some congealed salads are made with unflavored or plain gelatin, but more often than not, they are made with fruit-flavored Jell-O® — usually, lime. Vegetable types of salads are often garnished with horseradish or mayonnaise.
If the salad is to be made in a shape, which is common, the cook must quickly pour the Jell-O® fruit mix into a mold. Shaped Jell-O® molds are available from some vendors, but cake pans — particularly bundt pans — are commonly used, as well. The Jell-O® must set in the refrigerator, which often takes several hours.
Not all Jell-O® salads are shaped. Some salads, particularly those meant to be directly served in individual portions, are more blended. Jell-O® seafoam salad is perhaps the most popular example of a salad made in this style.
A seafoam salad is made much like a typical fruit-based Jell-O® salad, except that whipped cream, cottage cheese, or cream cheese is added directly into the gelatin mixture at the same time as any fruit. When the Jell-O® sets, it sets around these creamier agents, which results in a form-free, soft substance that can be easily spooned into individual glasses or bowls. The “seafoam” name comes from the frothy, ocean-like look this kind of salad takes on when made with green or blue Jell-O®.