I’m a huge fan of late 50’s-mid 60’s cookbooks. From the luridly hand-tinted photos to the bizarre gender role references to the flavor concepts which boldly go where taste hasn’t gone before, these cookbooks offer more reading entertainment than you can shake a salad tong at. Making the recipes from these books is like opening an edible time capsule in your kitchen, and no matter the results, it’s a fascinating experience, and a fun one to share with friends and family if your friends and family happen to be cool.
Colorful, fanciful, and almost invariably bursting with eyebrow-raising flavor, nothing says retro time travel like molded salads. I want you to experience the author’s description of “Carrot-‘n-Cabbage Tower,” featured in the 1958 Better Homes and Gardens Salad Book: “Fresh flavor of lemony orange gelatin, crunch of garden vegetables, tang of sweet pickle – that’s what Carrot-‘n Cabbage Tower is made of. Here, plump pear halves make a pretty trim.”
What a bait and switch. No, I’m not going to share the Carrot-‘n-Cabbage Tower recipe this time. I just wanted to tell you about it. Instead, I’m sharing a refreshed version of the classic Sunshine Salad, refreshed because I use sugar-free gelatin and pineapple packed in juice with no sugar added. Back in the day, cooks didn’t have the magnificent array of reduced calorie and sugar options which we take for granted. Since we have ’em, might as well use ’em, and transform this dish from a sugar festival into a light, low calorie treat. You should also know that in this time before frozen whipped topping was king, mayonnaise was typically served atop these salads. Yes, mayonnaise. Feel free to not try that, if the idea frightens you a little.
If my old cookbooks are to be believed, fanciful garnishes played an important role in the success of most dishes, molded salads especially. In the case of Sunshine Salad, the recommended adornment for your shimmering carrot-orange loaf is a large daisy with pineapple chunk petals, a green pepper stem and leaves, and a walnut flower center. Never mind that walnuts are nowhere in the salad. You’d better have a walnut on hand, you, or go get one. The salad does contain pecans, so I’ll let you off for fashioning a flower center from stray pecan pieces, but I don’t think the ladies who originally used this book would. I think they would label you an insurrectionist.
So here’s my recipe for Refreshed Sunshine Salad. It has a bright flavor, a striking appearance, and makes a pleasantly retro addition to your light spring and summer menu.
Refreshed Sunshine Salad
2 small packages sugar free lemon gelatin
2 cups boiling water
2 No. 2 cans crushed pineapple, packed in light juice
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups grated carrot
2/3 cup chopped pecans
Boil the water in a medium saucepan. Dissolve the gelatin in the boiling water and remove it from heat. Drain the pineapple, reserving the juice. Add enough water to the juice to make 2 cups, and stir this into the gelatin along with the vinegar and salt. Refrigerate the whole mess for about 30-45 minutes, or until it’s partially set.
Fold the rest of the ingredients into the partially set gelatin and transfer the mixture into a 9x5x3″ load pan. Chill until firm, and then unmold, preferably onto a bed of greens.
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