It's not all Jell-O & frozen peanut butter: Some salads in vintage cookbooks we'd actually enjoy today

It’s tricky to avoid Jell-O salads when diving through old cookbooks.

Gelled 'salads' were evidence of social status in the mid-20th century

Frozen peanut butter salad is just one of many unusual recipes, by today's standards, in The Watkins Salad Book. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

It's tricky to avoid Jell-O salads when diving through old cookbooks — they were the height of food fashion in the mid-20th century.

Fresh produce grown in the backyard garden was often overcooked, according to some vegetable-cooking charts of the day. Check out this one included in a publication by The Ontario Equitable Life & Accident Insurance Company:

A vegetable cooking chart from an old publication with culinary advice. (The Ontario Equitable Life & Accident Insurance Company)

Before the arrival of boxed gelatin, the process of making your own was long and involved boiling calves' feet.

But to serve gelled salads and desserts was evidence of social status.

The arrival of instant Jell-O made it possible for even the average homemaker to suspend all kinds of ingredients in glistening gel, moulded into impressive shapes.

A frozen peanut butter salad recipe. (Watkins Salad Book)

There's a fantastic read on the history of Jell-O and how it reflects the rise of the industrial food system and evolving domestic expectations over at Serious Eats.

Watkins Salad Book is full of what today we’d consider unusual salad combinations. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

The Watkins Salad Book — published by the J. R. Watkins Co. — is full of what today we'd consider unusual salad combinations — frozen salads, jellied salads and unusual combinations of meat and cheese, often stuffed into tomatoes and presented on a lettuce-lined plate.

A potato bean salad. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

Salads were more constructed than tossed; neatness was a virtue.

And yet there are salad recipes in the book that fit completely with modern ideas, such as a kidney bean and potato salad tossed in a simple vinaigrette — oil, vinegar and mustard — with green onions, cucumbers, radishes and even hard-boiled eggs. (I like them jammy — boil for seven minutes, so they're still a bit gooey on the inside.)

This recipe is a great use of thin-skinned summer potatoes and creamy kidney beans, which too often get relegated to chili.

A kidney bean salad recipe. (Watkins Salad Book)

Canned beans are just fine, or try soaking and simmering virtually any kind of dried bean you can find.

About the Author

Julie Van Rosendaal

Calgary Eyeopener's food guide

Julie Van Rosendaal talks about food trends, recipes and cooking tips on the Calgary Eyeopener every Tuesday at 8:20 a.m. MT. The best-selling cookbook author is a contributing food editor for the Globe and Mail, and writes for other publications across Canada.


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