|Congealed salads may have gone the wayside in many southern homes, but this Cherry Coke Salad might just bring you right back to it.|
Old Fashioned Cherry Coke SaladCoke Salad. The Amazing Coca-Cola Salad. Cherry Cola Salad. Fruit salad embedded in cherry Jello. Congealed Salad.
It's known by many names, but it's that last term that tends to garner harsh judgment toward the old gelatin encased salads. It's name comes, of course, from that fact that the contents - be they fruit or vegetables - are thickened, or congealed, into gelatin. I'm not sure why congealed salads fell out of favor, and all but disappeared from the holiday table. Maybe it was the term "congealed" that made them sound un-appetizing, but really, although some were made using a bit of shredded vegetables, most are made with fruit, and are simply fruit salads encased in Jello.
Congealed salads were once a constant presence in The South, not only at holiday tables, but also at ladies luncheons, potlucks, family gatherings, southern teas, church suppers, and of course, as a typical funeral food. You rarely see them anymore. I'm pretty sure they were heavily popular here in The South as a cooling salad, with our heat-oppressive summers. There's just something about the coolness and texture of Jello that is soothing on a scorching summer day.
Since modern days have come to associate the term gelatin with boxes of pre-sweetened Jello gelatin, I think most people these days would be more welcoming to a revival of the sweet versions of congealed salad - such as this Coke Salad. In truth, however, many times, congealed salads were more along the lines of savory, intended to be served as a side dish to meats. There are any manner of vegetable congealed salads, such as cabbage, cucumber, avocado, asparagus, and broccoli - usually congealed with an unflavored gelatin.
In fact, in the early 1900s, an entry into a cooking contest claimed fame with a savory salad encased in gelatin called Old Fashioned Perfection Salad. It was made using a combination of finely shredded cabbage, chopped green pepper, celery, and pimento as well as pimento stuffed green olives, stirred into unflavored gelatin. It was then set in a mold, and often served in slices with a dollop of mayonnaise, as a side dish to roast, chicken and ham. Since I love the retro recipes, maybe I'll give this one a spin soon.
It was around the 1930s when jelled or “congealed” salads really boomed though, literally taking over the salad category in many cookbooks all over the country. Jello introduced lime flavored gelatin around this time because it seemed to be a well rounded flavor to suit many recipes, both sweet and savory. The Amazing Coca-Cola Salad was introduced at some point by replacing part of the liquid in the congealed salad with small bottles of Coca Cola. It became so popular that Jello introduced, very briefly, a cola flavored gelatin. It didn't go over very well though.
Of course there are also jellied consommés and aspics, most of which use un-flavored gelatins and are generally on the savory side. Many use some form of a tomato base and contain a variety of meats, or in this part of The Deep South, more often seafood. One of the ones that is still popular in The Deep South is Daube Glace, a congealed appetizer made from leftover daube, encased in a beefy gelatin along with The Trinity and a few carrots. It is typically served cold, in slices, and with garlic croutons, and appears most often as an appetizer for the Reveillon Feast breaking the fast after midnight mass on Christmas Eve.
While some people do still make congealed salads, they have pretty much gone the way of the rest of the old lost recipes. With the upcoming holidays, I wanted to get at least one posted, hoping to encourage a comeback. I am sure that with my intent to rescue old lost recipes, you will see more. I did make a bit of a festive holiday twist with this version by adding in some of the new POM Wonderful Cranberry, a blend of pomegranate and cranberry juice. Basically you want to use a total of 4 cups of liquid, between the cherry syrup, the juice from the drained pineapple and Coca Cola, so substitute other juices you happen to have on hand, or extra cola to make up the full 4 cups.
The original Coke Salad used two of those 6 ounce bottles of Coca Cola, which were much more widely available back then, and anything else would have been considered blasphemy. These days a can of Coke is fine in my opinion, and some folks even substitute other colas in place of Coke.
Often congealed fruit salads are incorporated with cubed cream cheese, cottage cheese, whipped cream or Cool Whip, and even marshmallows in the body of the salad. I prefer to keep the gelatin for this Coke Salad in its pure, gorgeous red color, especially for the holidays, and use the cream cheese as a topping instead.
Don't be tempted to use fresh pineapple in this salad. You really need the canned version which has had the enzymes rendered inactive by some pre-cooking. Enzymes present in certain fresh fruits such as pineapple, mango, figs, honeydew melon and a few others will cause the gelatin to fail to congeal.
This dish does fall into that category of is it "salad" or is it "dessert," but frankly I just look at this as a variety of fruit salad, and that pretty much settles it for me. When Mama made them, they were always molded, and while that makes for a lovely presentation - particularly when done in little individual molds - as far as I am concerned, a scoop of it served on a bed of lettuce is perfectly acceptable to me.
Recipe: Old Fashioned Cherry Coke Salad©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 10 min |Inactive time: 6 hour | Yield: About 6 servings
- 1 (20 ounce) can of crushed pineapple, drained, but juices reserved
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can of sweet Bing cherries or dark sweet cherries in heavy syrup, drained, but syrup reserved
- 1 large (8 serving size) cherry flavored Jello
- 1 (12 ounce) can of chilled Coca-Cola
- 1/2 cup of chopped pecans or walnuts, optional
- Topping (recipe below), cottage cheese, or sweet salad dressing mayonnaise (like Miracle Whip), for garnish, optional
- 1 (8 ounce) package of cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1/2 cup of powdered sugar
- 2 cups of thawed Cool Whip or whipped cream
Drain the cherry syrup and pineapple juices into a saucepan. Set the fruit aside in the refrigerator to chill. Bring fruit juices to a boil, remove from heat and whisk in the Jello powder until fully dissolved. Transfer to a 4 cup glass measuring cup and add enough Coca-Cola to equal a total of 4 cups of liquid. You can also substitute additional cola, Dr Pepper, cherry coke, other compatible juices, or even water to make up the full 4 cups; transfer to a bowl and stir in the pineapple, cherries, and nuts. Can also pour into small, prepared individual molds or a larger mold if desired. Allow to fully set for at least 3 to 5 hours or longer - do not stir!
For the topping, cream together the cream cheese and sugar; stir in the Cool Whip or whipped cream, until well combined. Use as a topping for salad.
To serve, turn out molds onto individual lettuce leaves, or spoon servings into short parfait glasses, or onto leaves of lettuce. Top with a small dollop of the cream cheese topping below, or a sweet mayonnaise, such as Miracle Whip, if desired. Homemade mayonnaise is particularly endeared for congealed salads. If you use a mold, place the topping in the center of the mold.
IMPORTANT: You must use sweet cherries in syrup for this recipe. Do not be tempted to substitute the tart version of canned cherries. They are far too tart for this dish. In a pinch, a (10 ounce) jar of bottled maraschino cherries, well drained, can be substituted. Be sure to reserve and use the juice! Chill the fruit cans in advance if you have time - it will help the gelatin to set. Do not use fresh pineapple.
I added a cup of POM Wonderful Cranberry juice for the additional liquid, but you can substitute other compatible liquids or juices you happen to have on hand to equal a total of 4 cups, including other cold drinks like Dr. Pepper, or Cherry Coke. To increase this salad, just keep the ratio of 4 cups of liquid for every large package of jello you use, or 2 cups per small jello package.
Variation: Add one (8 ounce) block of cold cream cheese, cut into small cubes, the same time that you add in the pineapple, cherries and pecans, instead of using a separate topping.
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