Sunday, November 14, 2010

Old Fashioned Cherry Coke Salad

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 Salad

Coke 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.

Cook's Notes: 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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  1. Congealed or not, this sounds wonderful and would be so festive as a holiday side. Thanks for posting this. Bookmarking now...

  2. I have just discovered your blog via and I must say I relate to so many of your dishes (and your blue willow pattern)although I am a fairly recent transplant to the deeper South. This is on dish I have never tried..jello salads with fruit for sure, but never with coke.. I will have to give it a try.

  3. You know, I had completely forgotten about this delicious salad. I used to make it all the time for Thanksgiving but haven't for the past several years. Thank you for the reminder, Mary.

  4. Oh Mary I love this salad! I hope to be able to serve it on thanksgiving day. My dinner and guest list is steady growing!

  5. It is 8:00 am here, that cranberry business looks preety good. refreshing. I like cranberries, and make them from scratch like you do..this year going to add the
    zesty stuff...and Pom, for a change.. And the cherry coke? trying that too....

  6. I probably had 5,000 different jell-o salads growing up. I'm surprised I didn't have an egg version for breakfast. :-) My mom and Aunts made them constantly and the versions were endlesss. One of these days, I'm going to post my husband's favorite Apricot Jello salad version. Quite good. This Cherry Coke recipe is new to me and it sounds really good. Thanks for sending it along.

  7. We used to have jello fruit salads all the time. I hadn't thought about it, but you're right; they have kind of disappeared. I may try this recipe for Thanksgiving!

  8. ANYTHING with Coke in it has my vote, how very interesting, I have never heard of this salad, thanks for the education!


  9. wow. This is a first for me. Is it wrong to be from the south and to never have eaten a jello salad? I must try this!

  10. Coke Salad has been served at our holiday dinners as long as I can remember.. Its not a holiday without it.. Just made the list for the grocery store today- always coke salad ingrediants listed first!! YUM!

  11. I love jello salads and reember if yuo use the sugar free style and fresh veggies it is a very low calorie treat. My perfection salad is merely lime sugar free jello with shredded cabbage, carrots, and unsweetened crushed pineapple. Low cal and high taste and texture. The term comgealed salads is unappetizing and seems to be regional. I never heard jello salads called that until very late in my life. Another lo cal version is sugar free orange jello set with mandarin oranges and crushed pineapple. Try diced apple and grapes set in lemon jello. The possibilities are endless.

  12. Sounds really intriguing! I'd love to try it one day.

  13. Ok this looks yummy! But I have a question...I like cherries but DESPISE anything cherry flavored, can I use a different jello flavor? If so what would you recommend?

  14. Hey Nikki - Sure, you could change out the cherry jello for anything that might be compatible. Maybe strawberry, or strawberry banana. I can't think of all the flavors Jello has out these days. This recipe is just for one of many for congealed salads. I don't see why you couldn't do something like strawberries and strawberry jello? Use well drained frozen strawberries. You also do the bananas with that strawberry banana jello. Those should work well with Coke. Course you could go with drained mandarin oranges and orange jello and change it up to 7-up too! :)

  15. Fascinating! Love the history and the modern tweaks to this dish. I remember J-ello salads from growing up in Texas. Somehow they sound more appealing when we used the word J-ello ;-)

  16. I grew up with my mom making this salad for holiday meals. I now make it for my holiday meals. I use black cherry gelatin though (i don't like the taste of the cherry gelatin), dark sweet cherries, and I melt the cream cheese in the liquid from the fruit. I add the coca-cola last and as it sets, it makes wonderful layers that look great served in a clear dish. My favorite!!!

  17. Oh yeah, the layered version is wonderful Kerry - thanks for the reminder!

  18. One common one where I'm from is jello pretzel salad. Usually it's strawberry but I like to do a raspberry version. Yum!

  19. Jello pretzel salads are incredibly common where I grew up. :-) Usually was one at any type of potluck! Strawberry is the usual version but I love to do a raspberry one. Yum! (and hopefully this only posts once. I had some issues logging in!)

  20. Lawd-uh-Mercy! I thought my family was the only one who did Coke Salad!
    Every Thanksgiving, living out and away from the Deep South, my family and I would have guests over for the Thanksgiving dinner. When it came to dessert time, we would pull out my great grandmother's nesting bowls that were filled with the congealed salad.
    I cannot tell you how many times that I've found myself explaining that, "Yes, it looks like vomit. No, it's in fact, one of the most delicious things you'll ever eat."
    What a delight that it is to have stumbled onto your site. I'm seventeen, and I take pride in the culinary escapades of my family, as well as our Southern, matriarchal culture.
    Keep on cookin' and keep 'em comin'!

  21. OMG, me TOO!!
    This has a standing place on our table. It is not a holiday unless we have this.
    I use whatever flavor I feel like. They had cranberry jello one year. Loved that, but haven't been able to find it again.
    I use sugar free jello and diet coke AND we add cut up cream cheese (1/3 less fat).

  22. I made this once a few years ago and then lost the recipe! Glad I saw this! Oh and yes it's pinned!

  23. This is my absolute favorite recipe ever. My great-great-grandmother called it "Co-Cola Salad" and I was so proud when I graduated to finally being trusted to make this dish for family get-togethers. :) My Nana always pinches cream cheese into tiny bits for the topping, so that's the way I learned to do it. It is so good for breakfast, too!!

    1. This poor recipe of mine has been linked to and made fun of so many times since I posted it, but you and I know that it's a delicious classic don't we?!!

  24. My favorite Jello salad from college (late '60s) was strawberry Jello with mashed bananas, frozen strawberries (thawed) and crushed pineapple. Put half in dish and chill. Cover with a layer of sour cream. Top with rest of Jello mixture and chill until set. Best Jello salad/ dessert ever

  25. My favorite Jello concoction came from my
    college dorm mate's mother. Strawberry Jello with mashed bananas, frozen strawberries (sweetened, sliced), and crushed pineapple. Put half in 9 x 13 dish and chill. Cover with a layer of sour cream. Add other half of Jello mixture and chill until set.

  26. My favorite Jello salad from college (late '60s) was strawberry Jello with mashed bananas, frozen strawberries (thawed) and crushed pineapple. Put half in dish and chill. Cover with a layer of sour cream. Top with rest of Jello mixture and chill until set. Best Jello salad/ dessert ever

  27. Coke Salad is a staple of my Mom's family. It wasn't until recently that I really started to consider her family to be Southern because I always knew them to be from Ohio. But they moved to Ohio from Texas.
    Well, low and behold, in this blog post, I find out that Coke Salad is southern!
    Thanks for the post!

  28. How far ahead can you make this salad?

    1. Several days for sure - even up to a week I'd guess. Cover tightly. Wait to make the topping until you're ready to serve though.

  29. I am from South Georgia and was looking for the congealed salad recipe that had coca cola, black cherry gelatin and bing cherries in it with a sour cream type topping and I found it on your site. This salad was a mainstay at Easter and funerals. Your recipe is exactly like I remember. Both mom and grandma have passed away and finding this recipe really made my day! Thanks so much for sharing!

  30. Mary--I have a party for Memorial and I have a frig full of fresh, sweet cherries. Can they be used here and how would I do it??

    1. Oh lucky you! Yes, you can use them - the contents of the canned cherries is just pitted cherries and sugar syrup! Depending on how sweet your's are you may need no additional sugar at all. I'd be tempted to make a cherry pie too!!

    2. So just pit the cherries and nothing else changes? What do I do for the reserved heavy syrup?

    3. Since you said your cherries are sweet, just a little water with the pineapple juice so you can dissolve the gelatin. If you want to sweeten them, add a little sugar. Then you'll add enough Coke to bring the mixture to 4 cups.

  31. My mother used to make this jello salad for special occasions when I was a kid. I'm 78 years old now and I have wondered for YEARS about the recipe for this. I knew I REALLY liked it. The contrast in flavors...the sweetness of the black cherries and the briny wonderful taste of green olives and then the walnuts! Whoa! Sooooo gooood.....and here it is! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Now I will only wonder if THIS generation, my kids and grandkids will find this as amazing as I did at age 13 !!!!

    1. Unfortunately they don't seem to have the same endearing affection for the congealed salads, but that's okay. Us older folks will try and keep it alive best we can in the meantime!!

  32. Mary, I just love your site!! I've spent hours just browsing through your wonderful recipes and many conjure up long ago memories. One was this, my mother made a hideous jello mold of lime jello, cucumbers, celery and cream cheese every Christmas. She made it for years before we finally told her we absolutely hated it! Poor mom. This coke salad sounds really good. Thank you for all your interesting stories and wonderful recipes! -- Nina


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