To celebrate Halloween, I thought I’d do something a bit more modern. This recipe is most likely from the 1930’s or 1940’s, though the image source (chronicallyvintage.com) suggests the possibility of it being even later. There are a few clues that indicate 1940’s or earlier: the font, ingredients, and the spelling of the word Hallowe’en.
Fun fact: Spelling Halloween with the apostrophe is actually grammatically correct and was how children learned how to spell it in school. It is a shortened version of Hallows Eve. Over time, a grammatical error actually became the norm and now it is rare (and a little strange) to see it spelled with an apostrophe.
Before we get started with this molded monstrosity, let’s briefly talk history.
Gelatin and the Rise of Convenience Foods
Gelatin and jellied foods have existed for centuries, long before Jell-O patented its instant formula in 1897. Because of its convenience and the added bonus of offering pre-sweetened flavors, Jell-O was a major hit and it quickly (and radically) changed American cuisine.
By the 1930’s and 1940’s, many women were actually working outside the home and their numbers were increasing. They needed to feed their families but no longer had hours to spend at the stove preparing meals. With the new availability of large, electric home refrigerators, leftovers could be stretched to last even longer than before. And due to the Depression and rationing during the war, sugar could be difficult to come by for the average housewife.
To get around the rationing, save time and money and use leftovers in creative ways, women created “molded salads” that could contain anything from fruits and vegetables to shredded cheese and tuna fish. Women were still expected to entertain, and they discovered that foods set in sweet flavored gelatin could be molded and presented in beautiful ways. Plus it gave their husbands and guests the impression that they were spending much more time on meal preparation than they actually were. This justified the use of convenience/instant foods, which were still frowned upon by people who weren’t “lazy.”
To learn more about gelatin and the history of molded salads, check out the following links:
The Social History of Jell-O Salad: The Rise and Fall of an American Icon
The Molding of America
“Soak gelatin in cold water for 5 minutes. Add heated orange juice. Stir to dissolve”
Start by soaking your unflavored gelatin in a pot with a 1/2 cup of cold water. Next, heat the orange juice.
It is very important to follow this recipe exactly! The first time I heated the orange juice I accidentally let it boil and my jello did not set. So heat it up to the point where it begins to bubble but not boil. Then add it to the gelatin and stir until the granules have dissolved.
“Add unheated orange juice, lemon juice, sugar and salt. When beginning to stiffen, add orange pieces, carrot and walnut.”
Once everything had dissolved, I added the juices, sugar and salt. I stirred until I couldn’t scrape sugar off the bottom of the pot.
I stirred and stirred before adding the remaining ingredients, but both times I made this recipe the liquid didn’t “stiffen” the way I thought it was supposed to. On my second try it was a little thicker and only slightly less runny than the juice, but it wasn’t stiff. Regardless, I added the oranges (I used drained mandarin oranges), shredded carrots and chopped walnuts and stirred it until everything seemed to be evenly distributed.
“Chill in individual molds until firm.”
I then poured the mixture into a bendable silicone cupcake/muffin pan and put it in the fridge to set. It probably took 2-3 hours for it to set completely, but by the time I served them they had been chilling for around 5 hours.
If you don’t have individual molds, I’m sure a gelatin mold ring or other shape would do just as well.
“Unmold on lettuce. Press seedless raisins into tops of molds to make faces.”
I made little beds of lettuce on the plates and plopped my little gelatin muffins on top of them. The mini salads kept their shape really well, but I suspect an actual gelatin-specific mold would have had prettier results.
I attempted to make a face with raisins, but I just did not have enough space to create anything that didn’t look terrible…and a little gross.
Hallowe’en Salad is not my favorite thing. Flavor-wise it was actually surprisingly good! My only major issue with it was the texture, which is a common complaint amongst people who experiment with vintage molded salad recipes.
This mid-century recipe is incredibly easy to make and is about as authentic as it gets. The only things Hallowe’en-y about it are the orange color and the raisin faces, so there is no reason you can’t give it a try any time of the year!