If you flip through most Texas cookbooks published in the last century, you’ll find recipes for congealed salads. Simply put, this is a salad is made with fruit, nuts, and gelatin. This longtime favorite was once a standard at most potlucks, church suppers, holiday dinners, and backyard barbecues. Whether the salads were pink, red, or green (or perhaps some combination of all three), these salads always took a place of pride on the table.
My family usually has at least one at every gathering, but this seems to be the exception and not the norm. Unfortunately, the congealed salad no longer occupies its esteemed place on the Texan table, and you just don’t see them nearly as often as you did back in the day.
Sure, I can understand some people’s aversion to making a salad with flavored boxed gelatin that is chock full of sugar, artificial colors, and other dreadful ingredients. But it’s simple to make a congealed salad with unflavored gelatin and any combination of liquid. And quite frankly, these salads not only taste better but are also healthier too.
One stalwart of the congealed salad tradition is the Dr Pepper salad (or Coke salad if your people were more inclined that way). As the name implies, the salad is made with said soda, and usually some combination of cherries, nuts, and cream cheese. A topping of whipped cream would not be unheard of if you were feeling especially fancy.
When I was telling my grandma that I would be making a Dr Pepper salad for the Fourth of July and discussed with her the traditional ingredients, she laughed and said, “Is this a salad or a dessert?” Indeed, that is a good question. Especially when you consider most Dr Pepper salads are made with cherry pie filling, sweetened red gelatin, along with Dr Pepper. That’s an awful lot of sugar for a side dish, and so I was curious if it would be possible to make a Dr Pepper salad with more natural ingredients instead.
Thursday, July 02, 2015
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Memory is a strange thing. For years I’ve been obsessed with a chocolate brownie ice cream that I ate when growing up in Houston. It was made by Blue Bell and I used to pull the half gallon out of the freezer, scoop out a big bowl, and then sit on a stool at the kitchen counter eating it in the afternoon on summer days. But I hadn’t seen it for years and wasn’t quite sure that it was real or not.
When I was nine and moved to Houston from Dallas, I had Blue Bell ice cream for the first time. It was the late 1970s and Blue Bell was strictly a Houston-area brand, so I’d never heard of it until my parents came home from the grocery store with the signature gold-rimmed half-gallon tub and explained that Blue Bell was the preferred ice cream in Houston. For some reason, I was dubious at first (in Dallas, for store bought we’d eaten Braums and Haagen Dasz) but after my first bowl I was a convert. Blue Bell was sweet, cool, and refreshing—it was very good.
Back then, there weren’t too many flavors available. Homemade vanilla was popular, as was chocolate chip, cookies and cream, and my favorite—that chocolate ice cream with little pieces of brownies swirled throughout the base. While having ice creams packed with other stuff is common now, in the 1970s it was a novelty. And so each time your spoon dug up one of the small pieces of brownie in the chocolate base, it was like finding a secret treasure.
Here’s the thing, however. I haven’t been able to find any record of this exact flavor anywhere and when I asked several friends if they recalled it they said that they did not. For some reason, I failed to ask my mom, but finally I did and received the answer I’d been seeking. “It was chocolate on chocolate,” she said, being a huge chocolate fan and all. “Of course, we ate it!”
Thursday, June 11, 2015
Crisp iceberg, cool shrimp,and creamy avocado, all tossed with a tangy dressing is what you want on a hot and sultry day. Though what also makes this dish such a treat is that it has a sense of place—Houston to be exact.
I first encountered this recipe for shrimp and avocado salad a few months ago when I was in Waco speaking on a panel about Texas food at Baylor University. The talk was presented by the Texas Collection, which as the name implies, is a large set of Texas books found in The Carroll Library at Baylor.
The collection, which is lead by director John Wilson and librarian Amie Oliver, has books about all aspects of Texan life—from history to food. And it’s the latter that made me very happy, as in the collection are almost 4,000 cookbooks focused on Texan cuisine. I had no idea that many were even in existence! The opportunity to spend two days going through just a few of those books was like being in cookbook heaven.
While there are some New York-city published Texas cookbooks in the collection, the vast majority are locally published community cookbooks—books that were produced by Texas churches, schools, civic clubs, and other organizations. These cookbooks are a treasure, as the recipes not only reveal what a community cooked at a certain point in time, but they can also give you a sense of the community’s values and will often have names of the community members listed, as well.