Jell-O salads were created by Mrs. John E. Cook of New Castle, Pennsylvania in 1904. By the 1950s, they had become so popular that Jell-O responded with savory and vegetable flavors such as celery, Italian, and seasoned tomato. Sadly, these flavors were dropped, but the trend continued. The 1964 Joy of Cooking has forty-three recipes for congealed salads, one with shredded cabbage, clam juice, and olives that Escoffier would applaud.
Though these salads are still popular in the upper Midwest and Utah (where Jello-O is the official State Dessert) they’ve disappeared from most American tables (or any other tables, for that matter). The 2006 75th anniversary edition of Joy lists four congealed salads alongside two savory aspics (a basic recipe as well as the ever-popular tomato) and two mousses (lobster and cucumber). Still, many people I know have something like a molded asparagus/cream cheese salad or a congealed cranberry relish on a holiday table.
This recipe is easy, delicious and oh-so pretty for summer lunch. Add one and a half cups boiling white grape juice to two (3-ounce) packages lemon Jell-O. Mix until gelatin is dissolved, and chill until thickened but not firm. Stir in sliced strawberries, fresh blueberries, raspberries and sliced seedless grapes. Pour into a 6-cup ring mold coated with cooking spray and refrigerate until quite firm, about 4 hours. Unmold onto a platter and serve immediately.
During the Great Depression, the Federal Writer’s Project assigned many unemployed writers (unemployment being a chronic condition among writers no matter the economic climate is, trust me) to collect information for a work that was to be called “America Eats”. Pearl Harbor halted work on the project, but Pat Willard found the materials and fashioned them into America Eats!: On the Road with the WPA – the Fish Fries, Box Supper Socials, and Chitlin’ Feasts That Define Real American Food (2008).
Eudora Welty (who threw in a julep recipe, bless her soul) and Ralph Ellison (who recorded the chant of the Harlem “sweet pertater man”) were among the contributors to this chronicle of America’s regional cuisine, which focused on gatherings such as church suppers, harvest festivals, state fairs, political rallies, lodge suppers and any other gathering where food was a primary element. Recipes for such staples as root beer, pickled watermelon and chess pie abound, as do those for barbecue. This baste is from Pinky Langley, a white man from Jackson. He instructs readers to mix the ingredients, cook for 30 minutes, then baste, turning the meat frequently.
3 lemons sliced
1 pint vinegar
3 heaping tablespoons sugar
1 heaping tablespoon prepared mustard
3/4 pound melted oleo (margarine)
1 small bottle tomato catsup
1 small bottle Lea & Perrins Sauce
3 chopped onions
enough water to make 3/4 gallons
salt, black and red pepper to taste
Green tomatoes, even tomatoes that are half-ripe, make wonderful pickles in any degree of sweet and sour. This is a nice little recipe to prepare in advance of any summer gathering, and you can have fun varying the basic ingredients as well as the spices and flavorings. Make it your own. You can call this a chow-chow if you like, you can call it a piccalilli, too, even a chutney if you really want to be stuffy about it, but let’s simply say it’s a relish and be done with it.
Finely dice 6-8 green tomatoes (enough to make a quart), one very firm cucumber, a red bell pepper—you can chop up one or two cayennes or a jalapeno if you want—and a large sweet (yellow) onion into a large bowl, add a tablespoon salt and a half cup brown sugar, stir and let sit for an hour or two (overnight is better). Drain the juices from the vegetables into a large saucepan, add 2 cups white vinegar, another half cup of sugar, and two tablespoons pickling spices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer for about ten minutes, then strain, add vegetables and cook over medium for another ten minutes or so. Drain excess liquid, transfer to jars to cool, top with a screw-on lid and chill. You can use this as soon as it’s cold, but it’s much, much better the next day. It will keep in the refrigerator for a week.
I’m not about to tell you how to cook a hot dog, and I’m not going to tell you what kind of bun to stick it in, either; those are purely personal considerations. You heat up a wiener any way you find best, and stick it into whatever bun you like.
As to toppings, mustard is the premiere condiment when it comes to sausages of any ilk. Eschew French mustards; while France has been an ally since the dawn of our nation, putting Dijon mustard on a hot dog seems vaguely unpatriotic and approaches the epitome of pretension. Creole mustard is a laudable and appropriate compromise. Ketchup is acceptable in some circles (yes, mine) but if you slather mayonnaise on a weenie, you need therapy.
A relish is wonderful, and your favorite chili should always be an option. Chopped fresh onion is a must; use a white with bite instead of a sweet yellow or red. For cheese use mild cheddar. It’s a hot dog.