You won't believe it -- 'salad' of my childhood may return

  • Just the right piece to layer the famous cherry "salad" that Susan Anderson-Khleif plans to make soon in honor of her mom.

    Just the right piece to layer the famous cherry "salad" that Susan Anderson-Khleif plans to make soon in honor of her mom. Courtesy of Susan Anderson-Khleif

Updated 8/13/2022 8:04 AM

It may be hard to believe but I found it: Mom's famous Jell-O "salad" recipe.

It's not just any gelatin, but an elaborate layered concoction in a clear glass dish that looks like an English dessert trifle. Mom called it a salad and served it on the table with the main meal.


It appeared at most holiday celebrations. Pecan pie was the dessert -- this was a salad.

Briefly, it is layered in a tall bowl, with alternating layers of square cut cubes of cherry Jell-O, graham cracker crumbs, canned pitted black cherries, Cool Whip, then repeat this about three times -- garnish on top with whipped cream, a sprinkle of graham cracker crumbs and chopped pecans. Quite a pretty and colorful sight.

I think childhood memories are an excellent "go to" in grief, even after many years. Especially on a day when one is feeling a little down, and needs a cheerful thought. Thinking about this "salad" always makes me smile. It's one little reminder and expression of my mom's vivacious personality.

I think she liked this strange "salad" because it was festive looking, and tasty too!

I often wondered where she got the idea for this salad. Turns out it's a known Minnesota recipe (among the Midwestern American church ladies!).

I have a Minnesota cookbook that is a compilation of favorite recipes from a large list of Minnesota's favorite cookbooks. I have some of the old ones, including several of those homespun recipe books that women's' church groups put together and sold at their church bazaars.

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I looked under the "salads" sections to see if Jell-O mixtures were considered salads. And yes, they were/are. Then I was astounded to find Mom's pretty Jell-O salad recipe! It's accurate right down to the layering in a tall glass bowl. I thought Mom made it up, but no, it is an old salad recipe from a Zion Lutheran church. We were Methodists, but somehow she had found it.

However, Mom used cherry Jell-O and canned cherries and Cool Whip rather than the recommended raspberry Jell-O and real whipped cream, but otherwise exactly the same! Wow. It was the 1950s and '60s, so post-World War II era. New items such as Cool Whip had taken over. Convenience was gaining momentum.

Mom's orange salad is also in the Minnesota cookbook. But everyone knew that one. And she also made the popular lime Jell-O, the one with cottage cheese and crushed pineapple. They are in this book, too, indexed under salads. Her favorite was the "triflelike" layered salad. We liked it too.

The wedge salad, with iceberg lettuce, is also there, but mom made it a simple way -- just a wedge and a dollop of thousand island, French or Wishbone Italian dressing on top. No onions, no chopping. Just a wedge of lettuce.


The point is: Simple childhood memories, or any pleasant memory, can be amusing and lift our spirits.

As a matter of fact, I have just the tall glass jar to make Mom's pretty layered Jell-O salad; it's actually a pitcher but it's clear and tall. I think come Labor Day or Thanksgiving, I shall make Mom's cherry layered salad, even though I've never made any Jell-O before. By the time I learned to cook, it was the 1970s and '80s and I was living out East. However, I can follow instructions.

It will be an homage to Mom and childhood. But I will use real whipped cream, not Cool Whip. Or maybe … we shall see.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at or see her blog See previous columns at

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