Sunday, February 17, 2013

Guess What Salad (aka Welcome to the blog)

Guess What Salad
contributed by Mrs. Stewart Rowles, Newman, Ill.
Favorite Recipes of America: Salads p. 158

Oh, okay, I'll take a, vomit?

Hello, retro-gastronomes, welcome to Dr. Bobb's Kitschen, where I'll be tracking down and meticulously re-creating the swank company food that our parents and grandparents served at their fancy dinner parties and backyard barbecues, the kind of food that can alternately make you squeal with glee or spend the night on the commode.

My chief source of inspiration is a set of cookbooks I "borrowed" from my mother, called Favorite Recipes of America. Staff Home Economist Mary Anne Richards explains, in the preface, that "The Recipes in...FAVORITE RECIPES OF AMERICA were selected from the more than 100,000 recipes in my files to represent regional cookery at its very best...Each of these favorite American Recipes was home tested by cooks across the nation just like you. Every homemaker endorsed her own favorite recipe. Her name appears under her personal recipe. You'll treasure the many recipes in this collection which will become your favorites."

The copyright date is 1968, but the general flavor of the recipes collected therein (no pun intended) leads me to believe that the recipes were collected over the 1940's and 50's - lots of congealed salads, thrifty ways to stretch your ingredients, a submission from Mamie Eisenhower - that sort of thing.

I had thought that the books were bought and owned by my mother, but apparently not. A handwritten note found inside the MEATS volume read:

Dear Dorothy,

Have a Happy Birthday! And a happy summer. See you in Wichita!

Mary Helen

Dorothy would be my grandmother. In 1968, any trip to Wichita would be owing to her duties as Past Supreme President of the Social Order of the Beauceant, a title she would boast of frequently, though when she said it it came out all as one word (PassupremeprezdentatheBeauceant). Her duties as Past Supreme President took all over the world, including (but not limited to) Alaska, Scandinavia, and seven times to Hawaii (four times as an escort).

I have no idea who Mary Helen was, but she must not have been a very close friend, otherwise she would have known that the only book my grandmother would have need of would be the volume called CASSEROLES, especially if it had a chapter called "Casseroles containing cans of water chestnuts and crushed potato chips".

For this project, my self-created rules are:

1. I will follow the recipe ingredients and measurements to the letter, which is a struggle as I tend to eyeball measurements and add ingredients that I think would benefit the recipe.

2. Whenever possible, I will use ingredients that I, in my furtive imagination, think would have been readily available to a housewife of the fifties or sixties. Knowing the advances made in food preservation and transportation since then, for example, I will eschew a major national brand of a particular product in favor of a lesser known, regional brand. The exception being Jello-O brand gelatin, which is de rigueur in the preparation of congealed salads (unless the recipe calls for unflavored gelatin, in which case I will use Knox).

3. Each recipe will be blindly taste-tested by my husband, himself a Doctor (of music, like me...don't worry, I'm sure in the course of the blog I'll be revealing all sorts of delectable details of our life together) - that is, he will taste each recipe before knowing what the ingredients are. If he manages to get a bite down without vomiting, he will then be told the ingredients and see if that influences his final rating. Though I will gladly contribute my own comments on each dish, the final rating will be determined by him, who for our purposes here will serve as my breadwinning 1950's suburban husband.

And yes, we're both men. If you have a problem with that, stop reading. Or just get over it, like the rest of the 21st Century.

4. For now, my only source of recipes is the aforementioned five-book set. Once I have some petty cash (lovingly known in my household as "Lucy's allowance from Ricky") I will search up some antiquated cookbooks in used book stores. But I'll gladly accept recipe submissions here, if you don't have the stomach to make it yourself.

So, Guess What Salad, containing as its main ingredients canned corned beef and lemon gelatin, is part of a section of salads which all contain canned corned beef and lemon gelatin. They are so numerous, they got their own subheading - "Corned Beef Salads". Who knew?

The recipe is as follows:

1 box lemon gelatin
1 8-oz. can corned beef
1/2 c. mayonnaise
Dash of salt
1 c. finely chopped celery
2 finely chopped slices onion
1/4 c. chopped olives
4 chopped hard-cooked eggs
1/4 c. chopped green pepper

Make gelatin as package directs, using only 1 1/2 cups liquid. Let set until gelatin has begun to set; mix in remaining ingredients. Chill until firm. Yield: 12 servings.

One thing I noticed right away was that old-timety recipes apparently have no use for listing ingredients in decreasing order by how much is used, which I thought was standard practice. One would think the editors would have taken care of it, but apparently they just printed off Mrs. Rowles' recipe exactly as it appeared on the careworn index card she mailed in for consideration.

The recipe immediately preceding this one, called simply "Corned Beef Salad", is almost the same recipe except that it calls for the addition of 1/2 c. V-8 juice. Since V-8 juice makes me gag all by itself, I opted for this recipe instead.

Ingredients bought for this recipe:

1 box lemon Jell-O brand gelatin

1 12-oz. can Deltina brand Corned Beef ( I got Deltina brand because I'd never heard of it, and guessed that it might be regional. They apparently don't make 8-oz. cans of corned beef anymore, at least not that I could find. Breaking my own rule right away, I eyeballed 3/4 of the can's contents, which would be roughly 9 oz., and used that in the recipe. Also, though not indicated in the recipe, I sliced the corned beef and then cubed the slices, for easier mixing).

1 jar Publix brand Salad Olives (mysteriously, by the time I got home, the olives which looked so normal in the store had lost all their pimento fillings, and the pimentos had settled to the bottom of the jar. I don't recall driving erratically or getting swept up into a cyclone, and have no other explanation for the loss of the pimentos. I chose Publix brand because they were the smallest, and I figured would be of a size and variety widely available to a 50's housewife shopping at her local market. What I DON'T know is whether or not jarred olives of the past were stuffed with pimentos - but since magazine illustrations of the day of martinis clearly show pimento-stuffed olives, I assume they were. Not that it mattered, since most of my pimentos had settled to the briny bottom of the jar, beyond my reach).

I fruitlessly searched for a gelatin mold at Publix - since this is my initial venture, I haven't had a chance to scour the town for one. No such luck, and none of their disposable cake tins seemed to be exactly right, so for this recipe I used an Anchor Ovenware Casserole dish, pictured below.

Ingredients already in the fridge:

Hellman's Mayonnaise (I suppose, now that I'm a Southerner, there's some other brand I should be using. I'll ask Paula Deen about it and get back to you).
Onion (Vidalia)
Eggs (Brown Extra Large)
Green Pepper

It seems to me this recipe left an awful lot to the maker's discretion - like, should I add the ingredients to the Jell-O one at a time, or all together? In order as they are printed? Were there standard techniques to making congealed salads that everyone knew back in the day, but that have become lost to the ravages of time?

I just had to make my best guess at technique, so while the Jell-O was chilling, I mixed all the other ingredients together in the Ovenware Casserole dish, and then added the Jell-O in to that. This was perhaps the wrong way to go about it - I probably should have chilled the Jell-O in the Ovenware, and mixed the other things in a separate dish. At any rate, I left the completed salad in the refrigerator for about four hours, which is what the Jell-O directions called for, and this still didn't seem like quite long enough - the completed mold still seemed a bit loose and sweaty. Plus, shortly after completing the artful photographic arrangement below, the mold developed a fissure right down the middle, and by the time Jet arrived home it had nearly split in two.

The V-8 Corned Beef Salad recipe called for chilling the salad overnight, so perhaps that was standard practice. I DID use the loosening technique that every good congealed salad maker should know (setting the mold in warm water for a few minutes, and running a knife around the edge of the mold before turning it on to the serving platter).

I didn't taste the salad until Jet arrived home, and remember, husband is not to know the ingredients until after his first taste. I should explain that husband was returning home from a fourteen-hour workday, and was very hungry, which worked in my favor - I'm not sure he would have been quite so eager to try it had that not been the case.

His comments, in the order in which they occurred:

"It's not deplorable."
"Jesus, I'm hungry."
"There's corned beef in this, isn't there?"
"Who the hell puts corned beef in lemon Jell-O?"
"You know what's missing from this? Being drunk."

So, ladies, I think we've all learned an important lesson. If you want to keep your man happy, make sure he's had an extra-long workday when you serve up his slop, and have plenty of booze on hand.

What I thought: the dish is slightly reminiscent of ham salad - ham salad encased in lemon Jell-O. As husband observed, it's not deplorable, but....who WAS the first pioneering soul who decided that potted meat and lemon gelatin would be an ideal complement to one another?

Our Rating:
One and a half Screaming Husbands 

(all dishes are rated from one to five Screaming Husbands. One Screaming Husband equals a happy home where all problems are solved during cocktail hour. Five Screaming Husbands signals the beginning of divorce proceedings.)


  1. I'm a friend of your sister Sara's, who gave me your blog to read, and I must say this is my new favorite blog to read!!! I've laughed all through this. While the dish doesn't look appetizing, the ingredients do not sound bad.

    Happy cooking! I look forward to your next review.

    David F.
    Columbus, Ohio

  2. OMG -- I howled the whole way through. VERY funny indeed! Oh, and BTW, "Duke's Mayonnaise is the choice of Southern cooks."

    Look forward to more posts!

  3. I actually like the way the corned beef salad tastes! My Mom used to make it for the church salad bar luncheon in the '60s, and she said people raved about how good it was. I made the mistake of making it for a potluck in the '80s, and nobody touched it. I admit that it does look a bit like omelette vomit. I'm going to try making it with cherry jello, to see how it tastes and hope it looks a little less disgusting... :)

    1. Don't do the cherry jello! It's way too sweet and overpowering. On to lime jello, or maybe just a touch of some food coloring...