Last week, Robbie Burns Day got me thinking about another food that, like haggis, drives otherwise-reasonable people into vehement arguments over whether to love it, hate it, or call up the hazmat team to dispose of the toxic-waste-on-a-plate.
I’m talking about jellied salad.
Jellied salad was in its heyday when I was a kid. My Culross Copper Club cookbooks (published in 1954, 1965, and 1978 by the local ladies in the small rural community where I grew up) are packed with recipes containing the almighty Jell-O™. If they could conceive of a food combination in even the most hallucinatory of dreams, there was a jellied salad recipe for it.
Some were, quite frankly, revolting. Others sounded revolting, but were actually delicious. My particular favourites were baby shrimp in tomato aspic (always molded in a fish shape and served on lettuce leaves) and Golden Glo salad: Lemon jelly, pineapple, grated carrots, and diced celery.
There are cultural and historical reasons why jellied salads got so popular, but the truth is that they were fun and pretty, and usually tasted okay as long as you could put aside your innate objection to odd pieces of food suspended in unnaturally-coloured gelatin.
I know its day is long past, but I still can’t resist serving it every now and then. Just one brightly-coloured jiggly blob in a cut-glass bowl is enough to bring back happy memories of my grandparents’ big dining table extended to its limits, surrounded by a happy hubbub of family.
Anybody who didn’t live through the golden age of jellied salad reacts the same way when I put it on the table. First there’s a furtive glance: What is that? Next, a longer, more incredulous look: Is that… Jell-O… with STUFF in it?!? Finally, they avert their eyes in a polite effort to ignore my embarrassing faux pas.
When I explain what it is and that they’re not required to eat it unless they want to, everyone relaxes. Some even sample it cautiously, but I have yet to hear anybody sing its praises; or, for that matter, say anything at all about it. They just eat the small portion on their plates and tactfully turn the conversation elsewhere.
So I guess jellied salad is firmly relegated to the same status as haggis: If you grew up eating it during happy times, you probably still like it; but the rest of the world thinks you’re nuts.
Or maybe everybody has moved on to more sophisticated foods; and I’m the only nutcase left.
It wouldn’t be the first time…
Book 14 update: Off to the beta readers this week! Then I’ll be putting on my ‘production manager’ hat, so stay tuned for a title, cover art, and a release date announcement soon!