Admit it: No matter how serious a foodie you are, somewhere inside you lurks a perverse fascination for soft, sweet Jell-O “salads.” These were the kind your maw-maw or nana made and the kind sophisticated eaters are supposed to revile. As an acknowledgement of that down-low thrill, we’re delving into this retro holiday dish: an insanely sweet concoction that seems more like a chemistry experiment than something you should eat.
Jell-O salads date back to midcentury America, when convenience foods were all the rage and time-consuming recipes were shelved in favor of instant formulas awash in artificial flavors. There are dozens upon dozens of Jell-O salad recipes out there, from savory aspics to fruit molds to fluffy, creamy amalgams that require zero chewing.
Let’s explore one of the most famous in that latter category. Pale green and shapeless, it’s known by a variety of names, including Green Stuff, Green Fluff, Fluffy Green Stuff, Nasty Church Salad or by the official name, Watergate Salad. It’s a fitting choice given our current news cycle.
Watergate Salad features only five, yes, five, ingredients: Jell-O Pistachio Instant Pudding and Pie Filling, canned crushed pineapple, mini marshmallows, chopped nuts and Cool Whip. These items are combined in a bowl, stirred together and chilled for an hour. And that, my friends, is the extent of the recipe.
Sometimes topped with (real!) pistachios, maraschino cherries and more Cool Whip, the stuff has been part of countless covered dish suppers, family gatherings and holiday tables for decades, and has made a comeback in popularity—well, according to Jell-O’s parent company Kraft, and news sites interested in digging into some recipe nostalgia. This is the kind of dish that picky kids kill for at Thanksgiving. So much more interesting than disgusting vegetables and boring turkey.
And so, in the spirit of all things retro and midcentury, and perhaps in honor of a beloved family member, consider adding a throwback Jell-O salad to your holiday line-up. My guess is it’s going to be eaten.
Maggie Heyn Richardson is a regular 225 contributor. Visit her at hungryforlouisiana.com.