Marian Carcache: Congealed salad tasted as good as it was beautiful

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A few weeks ago, a friend invited me to be her guest at the local Women’s Club. The group meets in a lovely historic house here in Auburn. The members preserve the vestiges of a way of life I took for granted growing up. In addition to their manners and grace, they treat their guests to samplings of that delicious food most of us “of an age” remember our mothers and grandmothers making for special occasions.

My maternal grandmother made an Ice Box Cherry Pie every year on George Washington’s birthday. Joan’s mother made Orange Slice Cake at Christmas. Becky’s mother shared the Rum Cake recipe that became another family favorite. Aunt Evelyn taught me to candy citrus rinds. In the summer, Lynne’s mother made blackberry jam that I loved straight from the jar, and my mama made the crispest and best cucumber pickles ever.

Ladies’ luncheons always included chicken salad, deviled eggs, toasted pecans, and cheese straws. If one were lucky, Mrs. Howard would bring her specialty, cream cheese mints in pastel colors that melted in the mouth to provide an immediate sugar rush. Or someone would produce a plate of “Tea Time Tessies,” individual pecan pies. And a delectable congealed salad was an unspoken requirement.

I have one friend who thinks gelatin salad is passé, but I’m afraid that I may be unsophisticated about that fruit-flavored powder: While I won’t eat what is marketed as “whipped topping,” I absolutely love Jell-O combined and layered with nuts, fruit, and real dairy products – sour cream, cream cheese, whipping cream, grated cheddar, buttermilk, condensed milk, evaporated milk, or cottage cheese.

At the Women’s Club luncheon, someone made one of my Jell-O dreams come true. I’ve heard of Rainbow Congealed Salad for years, but was never lucky enough to be at just the right gathering of gracious ladies at just the right time, and certainly never spent the hours and energy to make it myself. Imagine waiting for each layer to thicken before being able to add the next color!  But there it shone in all its jewel-toned glory on the polished mahogany dining table, alongside the silver candelabra and compote of camellias: a red, green, orange, yellow, purple, and white layered congealed confection, beckoning me. And it tasted as good as it was beautiful.

What’s your favorite congealed salad recipe?

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