As you all know, I am a bit of a fiend for vintage celebrity recipes so I hope you don’t mind me stepping out of the silent era for the first time to try a truly strange creation.
(I have been cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay Cookbook. You can read all my taste test results here.)
When I saw Julie Christie’s Holiday Salad, I was intrigued. I have been pretty fixated with all things gelatin and this is… well, you’ll see soon enough.
I am joined in this adventure by Jenny of Silver Screen Suppers, who will be making her own version of this “salad” and sharing the results. Jenny is the maven of star recipes and Silver Screen Suppers is very much the ultimate stop for anyone interested in the history of vintage celebrity eats. Jenny has published two cookbooks, Cooking with Joan Crawford and Cooking with Columbo. (Ideal gifts for the movie nerd who has everything.)
Our mission: Produce an intact version of this gelatin salady dessert thing and share our thoughts on the experience. I also assigned myself the task of creating a vegan variation so everyone can get in on the salad fun!
Okay, let me start by saying this is not as weird as it sounds. The melted cinnamon candies give cinnamon flavor without the grit of the real spice. (But I am so turned off to fake cinnamon since every grocery store started selling those horrible cinnamon brooms from September on. Turns out I am allergic to fake cinnamon scents.) The ice water helps the jelly set faster and the mayo is used to thin out the cream cheese so it will swirl properly. At least, that’s the theory.
I used packaged lemon Jello, Claey’s cinnamon candies, Philadelphia cream cheese, Mott’s unsweetened applesauce (my favorite) and… I substituted sour cream for mayo because I hate mayo and anything that’s okay with mayo is better with sour cream.
Dissolving the candies was quite a chore as I had to crush them with a hammer (admittedly fun). The microwave was an enormous help; I just kept nuking the bowl in 15 second intervals until I got cinnamon water. (I think I would rather have used cinnamon syrup, which is pretty common in grocery store coffee departments these days.)
I mixed up the lemon-cinnamon-applesauce portion but then we are told to swirl the cream cheese mixture. Even with my gelatin thickened and my cream cheese thinned, there was no swirling happening. It just kind of broke up into chunks.
I spooned the mix into a greased gelatin mold and put it in the fridge. It seemed a bit wobbly so I went for a 24 hour set to give it extra strength.
And the result? Sad trombone.
Let’s be honest, it looks like frozen vomit. I’m sorry but it’s true. The cream cheese “swirls” just ended up as chunks and we do not like chunks in our jellies.
I honestly wonder if older gelatins were stronger because I had similar “I’m meeeeelting!” issues with Lilyan Tashman’s Fruit Salad a la Jell and had to bump up the gelatin considerably in order to make it work. If I were to make this again, I would add a teaspoon of unflavored gelatin.
I was not a happy camper. You have to remember, I am a gelatin fanatic and my one 1950s housewifey personality trait is an utter aversion to serving ugly jellies. This is a matter of personal pride. I have a reputation to maintain!
The flavors of this recipe actually work. The cinnamon, lemon and applesauce make the thing taste a bit like a Granny Smith apple but the cream cheese deadened that wonderful tang. Normally, I am all about the creamy but I think it was a misstep in this case. But generally speaking, not half bad.
At least that was my impression while I was making it but then I made the mistake of tasting my vegan variation first, which is flavored solely with fruit juices, and the difference was dramatic. The artificiality of the original version was pretty obvious and while it’s not gross, it’s kind of off-putting.
But I had a solution! Mwahahaha! I put a bit of the salad at the bottom of a stemless wine glass, topped it with crumbled graham crackers (use granola or another less-sweet cookie if grahams are unavailable) and whipped cream and then sprinkled maple walnuts and dried cherries on top. Cheating? You betcha! But everyone enjoyed the blend of flavors and textures. So even though this salad is, um, not the most attractive thing I have ever cooked, it is edible so yay me!
Oh and what holiday is this salad for? I think maybe I will say that since today is National North Carolina Day, this one’s for you, North Carolinians! And you’re right next door to South Carolina, which has Charleston, which reminds me of the Charleston, so we’re back in the silent era. Huzzah!
My second mission: create a vegan version that kind of resembles Christie’s original but is more in tune with modern preferences.
Vegan jellies are set with agar agar, usually, and the stuff has trouble setting a highly acidic liquid so instead of lemon flavor, I went for a blend of cranberry and apple juice with apple sauce and a swirl of coconut eggnog inspired by coquito.
I highly recommend either using a simple metal pan shape for agar agar as it can be a bear to unmold from elaborate metal designs. (It’s stiffer than gelatin.) Or you can do what I did and use a silicone mold, which allows for complex shapes that are also easy to unmold. You can purchase the same heart mold I used for the recipe here.
(Because silicone molds are so floppy, the best way to unmold a jelly is to sandwich it between two plates when you do the jelly flip. Please imagine Fats Domino singing that.)
I based the coconut portion of this recipe on Hot Thai Kitchen’s Agar Jelly Fruit Cake recipe and I highly recommend trying it out as it is delicious.
Okay, here we go!
2 cups cranberry juice
1 cup apple juice
1 cup apple sauce
Juice of half a lemon
5 teaspoons Agar Agar Powder
A few drops of red food coloring (optional and make sure it’s vegan)
Combine all the ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil stirring regularly. Let the mixture simmer for about 5 minutes to dissolve all the agar agar powder and keep warm until ready to pour. (Agar agar sets at room temperature.)
3/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons of sugar
1 scant teaspoon Agar Agar Powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon rum (optional, rum flavoring may be used instead)
Prepare the same way as the fruit jelly.
Lightly grease your mold and pour half of the the hot fruit jelly mixture inside. Allow to cool for five minutes and then pour in the hot coconut jelly mixture. Top the mixture with the remaining hot fruit jelly mixture. (Keep jelly mixtures on the stove on low heat until the minute you are ready to pour them.)
And here is the result! The swirl didn’t quite work so next time I will probably just do layers, which are easier anyway because they don’t require me to have two pots of jelly cooking at the same time.
Still, this was a very nice jelly with honest fruit flavor and a pleasant warmth from the cinnamon, nutmeg and rum. I served it with whipped cream (I was feeding vegetarians, vegans will want the non-dairy whipped topping of their choice) and a natural jarred cherry called Badda Bings (be aware that many red colored items used insect-derived coloring, so not vegan).
So, what’s your favorite Julie Christie movie? I love Far from the Madding Crowd myself.
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