Photoplay Cookbook: Agnes Christine Johnston’s “Scenario Salad”

Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes that I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.)  This time, we are trying a recipe from a pioneering screenwriter.

Agnes Christine Johnston may not have the name recognition of Frances Marion or Anita Loos but her thirty-five year career as a screenwriter is a testament to her talent and popularity. Her career started with penning shorts for Mutual and Vitagraph and continued through the silent feature era, the talkie revolution and television.

Johnston’s career took off when she was still a teenager and she was only twenty-three when she adapted the novel Daddy Long Legs for Mary Pickford. (She was given the curious title of “special scenario editress” for Pickford at this time.) However, Johnston’s finest contribution to silent film fans is probably her work for Marion Davies at MGM. Among other titles, Johnston penned The Patsy and Show People, two of Davies’ most popular films.

The author in 1919.
The author in 1919.

Johnston’s talent for humor and family-friendly entertainment meshed well with the philosophy of MGM in the post-Code world and she penned a number of entries in the Andy Hardy series.

In addition to writing, Johnston was an advocate for women in Hollywood. She was on record as stating that more women needed to direct pictures. It must have been frustrating to see the pioneering women of the silent days pushed aside as the movie industry became more and more of a boy’s club.

Johnston felt that a balance between family and work was the key to happiness, which was a pretty revolutionary concept in the early twentieth century. While contemporary reports were incredulous that she could “have it all” Johnston viewed her family and her work as complements to one another. She felt that her writing career made her a better mother and kept her from burning out.

So, Agnes Christine Johnston was a remarkable talent and a fascinating person but what about her Scenario Salad? Will it be legendary or a bomb?

Agnes-Christine-Johnston-Scenario-Salad

This recipe is significant as it is the only one in the book that claims to help its creator get his or her job done. Johnston is quite specific on the the efficacy of this salad in her recipe description. It’s light and nutritious and will make an excellent luncheon for a mental worker. Okay, let’s try this sucker out!

Hocus pocus flippity flam...
Hocus pocus flippity flam…

I started with a hard-boiled egg. Eggs with green shells are tastier. It’s a scientific fact. (My friend keeps chickens. There are advantages.)

agnes-christine-johnston-salad-2
The gutted pepper

Next, I gutted a green pepper, removing the core, seeds and any extra pith from the inside.

Shelled egg in pepper
Shelled egg in pepper

I was surprised by how well the egg balanced inside the pepper. I was expecting to have to use toothpicks.

The tomato gelatin.
The tomato gelatin.

This is the point where I started getting nervous. Aspics and savory gelatins are not exactly the big culinary thing these days.

Into the pepper it went!
Into the pepper it went!

I filled the pepper to the brim with the gelatin.

Yum?
Yum?

And into the fridge it went! I took it out after three hours and it was firmly set. Now for the moment of truth. Would the salad slice?

Waste not, want not
Waste not, want not

A problem became clear early on. You can only get two, maybe three attractive slices out of each pepper. The ends are quite homely and the whole thing starts to separate the more you slice.

The final product.
The final product.

It looks pretty on the plate…

A closer look
A closer look

But how does it taste?

My taste test video:

Final Score: 1 out of 5. This was so gross! The slimy tomato gelatin is to blame. I don’t even like gelatin to begin with so it was doubly nasty. Basically, I was okay until I tried to swallow and then my body simply refused to ingest. Can you blame it?

I think Johnston used this as a working meal because it gave her impetus to finish her scripts so that she could eat some real food.

Make this instead: Eat a hard-boiled egg. And a tomato. And some bell pepper. There! Done!

16 Replies to “Photoplay Cookbook: Agnes Christine Johnston’s “Scenario Salad””

  1. Your theory on Johnson using this as an incentive to finish her work is spot on in my book. Coming from a person that actually likes gelatin, this just looks downright nasty! Why not just chop up a bell pepper, tomato, and egg in a salad? It’s easy to make and healthy, and would certainly taste better than this!

    On a more positive note, another great review on your part!

    1. I agree, a much better chopped salad, especially if it’s yellow or red bell pepper instead of green. This early- and mid-century fixation of gelatins and aspics is downright disturbing.

  2. Love this cooking series–So fun! This Johnston recipe looks pretty, but tomato aspic is definitely an aquired taste–How about using chopped red beets instead of the gelatin? My family used to pickle boled eggs in beet juice and vinegar and it was delicious.This could be a better taste and retain the color plan .

    1. So glad you’re enjoying! The beet combo sounds delicious. I am extremely fond of beets and they would definitely be a step up from the tomato aspic.

  3. I’m going to be evil. What would you rather eat for a week: this or Crawford’s French banana salad? (With Gloria Swanson’s faux-rocks, er, I mean fudge, for desert.)

    1. I don’t think so. To me, it looks and smells like cat food. I read that the reason it was such a “classy” dish was because in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century it meant that you could afford the ice/icebox/refrigerator to set the horrid stuff.

  4. As I read on I began to fear for your safety. I’m finding that one must tread with caution with any “salad” recipe in this book. Eggs, green pepper, fine, sounds tasty, but a tomato aspic as well? (shudder)

    1. Nothing in the history of food has ever been improved by aspic. Nothing. Yes, their definition of salad does seem a bit… different, doesn’t it?

  5. To quote the late Milton Arbogast: “Well, if it doesn’t gel, it isn’t aspic, and this ain’t jellin’!” That thing looks like an alien eyeball sliced into small steaks. You know…. you can make some Green Eggs & Ham one of these days just for fun… 😀

  6. Thanks for another recipe review. You lost me at “tomato aspic”, but it’s an interesting window into the past, nonetheless. I confess that my own salads are a bit more “ad-lib”. 🙂

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