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Eat Like a Freshman: Christmas Salad

This recipe was taken from Seasoning Secrets and Favorite Recipes of Carson Gulley.

2 cups diced pineapple

2 cups Royal Ann cherries

½ cup pecan meats

½ cup almonds

½ cup glazed cherries

½ cup glazed cherries (green)

½ pound marshmallows

1 tablespoon crystallized ginger, cut fine

Fold into the following dressing and mold in salad dish for serving. Save half of the nuts, cherries, and ginger to sprinkle over the top.

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

5 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons butter

4 egg yolks or 2 whole eggs

1 cup vinegar — or ¾ vinegar and ¼ water

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup cream cheese

2 tablespoons orange juice

Mix together salt, mustard, sugar, and flour. Melt butter in a saucepan; add flour mixture and cook to a smooth paste. Whip eggs until lemon-colored and fluffy; add vinegar to eggs and add to flour mixture. Cook in double boiler until thick; remove from flame and cool. Whip cream until stiff and add one tablespoon powdered sugar (this is in addition to the two tablespoons called for above). Mash cream cheese until it is the consistency of whipped cream. (I used whipped cream cheese.) To the cooked mixture, add orange juice and blend well; then, carefully fold together the cream cheese and boiled mixture; if it seems stiff, add more orange juice until it is the consistency of whipped cream. Then fold it gently into the whipped cream and blend well. Add the above fruit to the dressing, pour into mold, and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Serves six.

This recipe has a lot of ingredients and steps. I was not able to find Royal Ann canned cherries. They were one of my mom’s favorite indulgences, and since Mom knows best when it comes to vintage recipes, I went to four grocery stores before I finally gave up and got dark sweet cherries. Some subsequent online research revealed that Royal Ann canned cherries are apparently not sold anymore, but a limited number of stores do carry the Oregon brand “light sweet cherries” in a can, which seem to be the same thing. (You can buy Royal Ann cherry trees online, but my commitment to this experiment only went so far.)

My prep times typically tend to be three times longer than what recipes claim they should be, but still, I thought I could throw this together in an hour. Three hours later (a good portion of which was spent looking for cherries), I was done. When making the dressing, I used the four-egg-yolks option. I also used gluten-free flour. If you make this, note that when the recipe calls for adding the fruit to the dressing, you’ll also want to remember to add the marshmallows. I forgot to add the crystallized ginger and only noticed that when I was cleaning up, so I undid my careful plastic wrap job, folded in the ginger, and put it back in the fridge. (In the end, I couldn’t even taste the ginger.)

Gulley doesn’t specify if you are supposed to unmold this dish, but after putting the mold in a bath of warm water, I unmolded it onto a plate. It looked rather unappealing, partly because the warm water melted the outer layer a bit. I also forgot to save some of the nuts, cherries, and ginger to sprinkle on the top, which might have helped a little with presentation.

Although I did not have ready access to a current-day UW–Madison freshman, I do have a UW–Madison senior living in my house (physics major Andrew Barnes x’24). I figured he would do to provide a contemporary student perspective on this 1950s recipe and informed him that he was required to be a food critic. As the ingredients sat on the counter for a few days while I gathered the motivation to make the recipe, Andrew eyed the fluorescent green and red cherries with a sense of dread. Once I made and tasted the dressing, I mentioned that I was having second thoughts about the dry mustard and vinegar. “Don’t worry,” he said. “We’ll get through this together.” (He is surprisingly reassuring for an undergrad.)

Andrew’s Reaction:
Andrew commented that the unmolded salad looked “lumpy,” or, more specifically, like “a sad corpse of a ghost and its remaining ectoplasm that it left behind.” His take: “It’s initially smooth with a mild marshmallow flavor — a pretty okay dessert, if unappealing in appearance. It has an interesting texture with a nice little bit of crunch from the nuts — but the aftertaste! You begin to taste the vinegar and mustard in the back of your throat. [Insert coughing sounds here.] It tastes like you just gargled barbed wire. It’s disjointing between the mild fluffy taste and a bitter, acidic sensation that makes me think I just ate poison that was disguised as a treat. It tastes like the secret ingredient is battery acid.” The final analysis: “Marshmallow Fluff would be half the effort and twice as good.”

Niki’s reaction:
I largely agree with Andrew, though without as much of the typical Zoomer/Millennial love for hyperbole. I found myself picking out the red and green candied cherries and leaving them on the plate. The regular cherries, the pineapple, the nuts, and the sweetness of the dressing were good, but the strong vinegar aftertaste and throat feel was alarming and persistent. One benefit, however, was that this “salad” was strangely satiating. As a Boomer with a guilty weakness for old-fashioned desserts like Pink Fluff, I could easily consume half a batch at one sitting, probably because one’s stomach doesn’t register it as actual food. That was impossible to do with this recipe. I had one normal-sized serving and called it quits. Perhaps Gulley was on to something after all, and the reason for the vinegar was to balance what could have been an overly sweet dish. But a cup? I checked the recipe to make sure that I hadn’t misread it. Nope. He calls for a cup, with a concession to the sharpness of the suspect ingredient in the form of an option to use ¾ cup vinegar with ¼ cup water (which I did).

If you are craving a Christmas Fluff for your holiday table, you’ll find lots of updated versions on the internet involving the requisite red and green candied fruit and even the addition of crushed candy canes. They tend to rely on instant pudding and the ingredient favored by Fluff lovers and moms everywhere: Cool Whip, which was not available to Gulley, because it wasn’t invented until 1966. My advice is to go with one of those newer, updated recipes.

Bottom line: In a refinement of Andrew’s analysis, I’d say the regular Fluff recipes would take one-tenth of the time and taste five times as good.

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