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Perfection Salad

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Q.

I’m looking for a jello recipe that my then 90 year old aunt once served with our main course.  The molded dish was not sweet and would be sliced and a chunk was placed on your plate instead of spooning out portions.  It was made with lime jello and included shredded cabbage and possibly shredded carrots and vinegar.  I think it also contained sour cream. I am unable to find anything like it from current jello recipe books and on-line.  No other relatives have a copy of the recipe but remember it from childhood.  Sound familiar? I would appreciate any help in finding this recipe.  Thank You.
--CJ

A.

Hi, CJ.  Yes I know what this is.  It’s Perfection Salad, of course and

a beloved American classic from the Gelatine Hall of Fame. 

A bit of history.  Gelatine dishes (also called jellies and aspics) were long ago made through a slow process of boiling a calf’s foot.  Because of the labor involved, it was a serious dish.  However, In the late 1800s, along came the Knox Gelatine company started making gelatine in an easy-to-use powdered form that made a once labor-intensive dish very easy and accessible to ordinary women.  Recipe writers and home cooks developed a huge array of molded gelatines--both sweet and savory and started calling them “salads.” I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that the wonderful Laura Shapiro wrote a great book called “The Perfection Salad:  Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century,” in which she describes the era’s passion for technology and tidy, dainty food for the white middle class.  In her view, these salads were “decorative” food.  Hence: items like cabbage and vegetables suspended in gel that could be sliced.  It was considered a very modern and dainty dish.  But really, it was just the beginning of gelatine history. 

(I’ve always taken a special interest in gelatine, as my grandmother worked in the Knox rival JELL-O company’s Hoboken factory--but that’s another Hoboken tale.)

As to your own family recipe, well, the original perfection salad was probably invented in 1904, made with plain gelatine that was flavored with some lemon juice. It was quite popular.  Later versions feature lime gelatine like the one you recall, but of course there are many many variations out there.  This one I’m sharing comes from my little “Knox Gelatine:  Dainty Dishes for Dainty People,” a 1931 edition.  It has a complicated ending note for serving the gelatine cut up in pepper “molds.” Totally unnecessary.  Just use a mold like the photo, or whatever shape you wish. 

Perfection Salad
(12 Servings--For 6 Servings use half of recipe)_

2 level tablespoonfuls Knox-Sparkling Gleatine

1/2 cup cold water
2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup mild vinegar
2 tblespoonfuls lemon juice
1 teaspoonful salt
1 cup cabbage, finely shredded
2 cups celery, cut in small pieces
2 pimentos, cut in small pieces or
1/4 cup sweet red or green peppers

Soak gelatine in col water about five minutes.  Add boiling water, sugar, vinegar, lemon juice and salt.  When mixture begins to stiffen, add remaining ingredients.  Turn into wet mold, and chill.  Remove to bed of lettuce or endive.  Garnish with mayonnaise dressing, or cut salad in cubes, and serve in cases made of red or green peppers or turn into molds lined with canned pimentos.  A delicious salad to serve with cold sliced chicken, veal, or other meat. 







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