Every Alaska community cookbook has a “salad” section. I use quotes because these sections do not contain any recipes that involve lettuce or croutons. They are, instead, devoted to Jell-o. If you grew up here like I did, there’s likely such a salad in your childhood. A fave of mine is orange and studded with canned mandarin moons. It’s served with a little splash of cream.
A person could get on a high horse. They could ask: is it really cooking if you are just opening boxes and freezer bags and cans? Is it really salad? But that person would misunderstand Alaska, especially mid-century Alaska in places off the road system, where most everything in the wintertime, especially fruits and vegetables, had to come from the pantry or the freezer. Our sacred jello salad canon should not be written off, because some of these salads are actually pretty good. Especially the ones that feature local berries and can be paired with savory meats like lamb or turkey.
Those of you catching my Jell-o vibe might want to make this highly delicious and most nostalgic salad from my old Anchorage O’Malley side. The recipe was first given to me by my Aunt Molly and it is entitled “Mrs. Volper’s PTA Salad.” In advocating for the generous use of sour cream, it notes “don’t be mingey.” ( I had to look that up.) However, as these things tend to go, my other Aunt, Peggy, says it’s from a person called Ginny Wampler and she calls it “Ginny Wampler’s Mother’s Molded Jell-o Salad.” (Should any Volper or Wampler reading this want to clarify, please email). Peggy uses light sour cream.
The recipe is a good use for frozen Alaska berries and features a tart ribbon of sour cream running through the center. The recipe calls for gelled whole cranberry sauce, but you can also try frozen cranberries or blueberries. I’d go with about a cup. You can make it in a jello mold, a bundt pan or, if you don’t want to deal with unmolding it, a lasagna pan. It goes well with roast chicken, turkey or pork and can also be dessert unto itself.
Mrs. Volper’s/Wampler’s Cran-Raspberry Jello Salad
Makes 12 cups
1 large 6 ounce package cherry or strawberry jello
1 1/2 cup boiling water
1 14 ounce can whole jellied cranberry sauce
1 20 ounce can crushed pineapple, with the juice
1 pint sour cream
1 large 6 ounce package raspberry or cranberry jello
1 1/2 cup boiling water
2 cups frozen unsweetened raspberries
Method: Spray a 12-cup bundt pan or jello mold with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, dissolve cherry or strawberry jello with 1 ½ cup boiling water. Once the jello powder is dissolved, stir in cranberry sauce, breaking it up with a spoon until it’s well combined. Then add undrained crushed pineapple and stir until well mixed. Pour into the bundt pan. Refrigerate until set, about 3 to 4 hours. Gently spread a layer of sour cream on the top. Refrigerate at least an hour. Make the last layer. Combine the cranberry or raspberry jello with 1 ½ cups boiling water. When the jello powder is dissolved, stir in the frozen raspberries. Carefully spoon the jello/berry mixture into the mold, careful not to disturb the sour cream. You may have a little more jello than you need. Refrigerate the mold at least four hours or overnight. When you’re ready to unmold the jello salad, take a clean, dry finger and gently just slightly pull the edge of the top of the jello away from the side of the bundt pan, working all the way around the pan and around the center. Dunk the bottom of the pan in a bath of hot water for about 10 seconds, submerging it ¾ of the way up the side, but being careful not to get any water on the jello. Invert onto a serving plate.