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 consomm├ęs 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.

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 out of a plan and placed on a bed of lettuce is perfectly acceptable to me.

UNDER REVISION: This 2010 recipe is currently under revision for updating for molding. While it tastes amazing, and it works fine for a pan, it's not setting up as well as I like for a mold, so I need to retest it for needed revisions. 

Old Fashioned Cherry Coca Cola Congealed Salad
From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish

1 (20 ounce) can of crushed pineapple, drained, but juices reserved
1 (14.5 ounce) can of sweet Bing cherries, drained, but syrup reserved*
About a cup of POM Wonderful Cranberry juice, divided, optional
1 large (8 serving size) cherry flavored Jello
1 (12 ounce) can of chilled Coca-Cola
1/2 cup of chopped pecan, optional
Topping (recipe below), cottage cheese, or sweet salad dressing mayonnaise (like Miracle Whip) for garnish, optional

Drain the cherry syrup and pineapple juices into a 2 cup or larger measuring cup. Set the fruit aside in the refrigerator to chill.

To the fruit juices, add enough POM juice to equal a total of 2 cups of juice. You can substitute Coke, other compatible juices, or even water to make up the full 2 cups. Transfer to a saucepan and bring up to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in the Jello powder until fully dissolved. Set mixture aside to cool slightly. Once cooled, pour the chilled coke into the same 2-cup measure. This should be roughly 1-1/2 cups of liquid. Top off with additional POM juice to equal 2 cups. Stir into the Jello mixture and transfer to a bowl. Chill until mixture begins to thicken and jell, about 1-1/2 hours.

Once the gelatin has begun to set, stir in the pineapple, cherries and pecans, pour into a 4-quart dish or pan and return to the refrigerator until fully set. Allow to fully set for at least 3 to 4 hours - do not stir!

Top each serving with a small dollop of the cream cheese topping below, or sweet mayonnaise, such as Miracle Whip, if desired. Homemade mayonnaise is particularly endeared for congealed salads.

IMPORTANT: You must use the canned, sweet Bing 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.

*Can substitute other juices you happen to have on hand in place of the POM juice, additional Coca Cola, or just plain water to equal a total of 4 cups. Some people like to substitute other cold drinks like Dr. Pepper, or Cherry Coke as well. What you want is an overall total of 4 cups of liquid in the end.

Variation: Add 3-ounces of cold cream cheese, cut into small cubes, the same time that you add in the pineapple, cherries and pecans.


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

Cream together the cream cheese and sugar; stir in the Cool Whip or whipped cream, until well combined. Use as a topping for salad.