Yep….50s jelly salads were a thing….

So, this is a little different post. Instead of being a family recipe passed down, this entry actually comes from a book my step grandmother [my mums dads second wife] gave me a few years ago during a visit to South Australia. I couldnt pass up a opportunity to discuss the rise of 1950s aspic food culture and this book is an absolute wealth of strange jellied concoctions.

Now, lets be clear. Not all 1950s foods were gelatin + ingredient. In fact, there were plenty of foods we today would find completely normal and might even still eat. The average Australian housewife would bring these strange recipes out under a very strict set of criteria. Most likely when entertaining or having your husbands boss around for dinner. According to my Nanna, she cooked a lot of meats and three veg when she first got married because that and casseroles were the traditional fare of the average person. A roast on sundays or special events like Easter and Christmas, a lot of baked goods, barely a jellied aspic in sight.

But….that’s not what people remember the 1950s for.

They remember the outlandish dishes and strange presentations. Because people like to mock things, frankly.

So, why did jellied foods become so big in the 1950s? I think they took over the western world for a number of reasons.

Firstly, rationing came to an end in the late 40s and early 50s which opened up a huge wave of convenience foods and easy to cook meals. I remember watching a program featuring Mary Berry of the Great British Bakeoff who started her career in food after world war II ended; she mentioned that the difference between rationed Britain and post rationed Britain was so stark it was almost like entering another world. Australia, while they didn’t have as severe or as long rationing, still had some goods rationed up until 1950.

Secondly, not every house had a fridge or was on electricity so having a gelatin based food meant you needed a fridge and therefore you had money. My great grandmother, raising several kids, had no electricity in her house until pretty late in her marriage and relied on an ice chest instead of a fridge.

Thirdly, the world embraced the future [and yes, that included almost nuclear war] after the end of WW2. Everything was futuristic, everything was modern, everything was new. By showing off your money by embracing new food trends like aspics and jellied salads, you showed you were ‘with it.’ And just like now, nobody wanted to be uncool. The fear of missing out [FOMO] on your husband getting a promotion at work or your neighbourhood women groups’ respect and admiration [and yes, probably envy] meant that a lot of women around the world wrestled with gelatin. The increase in mould technology at the time also helped provide a more even and successful attempt.

But like I said before, this wouldnt be an every day occurrence. I don’t ever, for example, recall either of my grandmothers talking about serving jellied salads or meals. I think the closest they ever got was serving jelly and cream/icecream for the kids on special occasions or a jellied trifle for birthdays. Although my Nanna was an expert at flummery [which is indeed jellied and I will be devoting a future post to].

So no, this isnt a family recipe but they might have encountered something similar.

Nor will this be the only recipe from the book that I share; there are way too many strange and wonderful recipes to not devote more future posts to.

Lime Vegetable Mould [Serves 8]

85gm lime flavoured gelatin/jelly mix
3/4 cup boiling water
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold water
1 cup grated cabbage
1/2 cup grated carrot
1/2 cup diced celery

Dissolve gelatin in boiling water in bowl
Stir in salt and add cold water. Chill until slightly thickened
Add cabbage, celery and carrot to thickened gelatin
Fold in
Pour into ring mould and chill until set
Garnish with sliced cucumbers or other vegetables

The actual illustration of the salad

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