Friday, November 25, 2011


When I look at the “old guy” to whom I'm married, I marvel to myself that he is among those of mature age with at least one surviving parent. Mother Bennie is 97 now and lives in a care facility in Memphis under the watchful eye of Mike’s sister. Naturally we think of Bennie every day, but she was especially on my mind yesterday as I made Dr. Pepper Salad. Mike has been a Dr. Pepper fan his whole adult life, and Bennie evidently developed this recipe based on one for Coke salad.

Here’s the recipe for Dr. Pepper Salad as it came to me:

1 3-oz pkg black cherry Jell-O
1 7-oz can crushed pineapple
1 8-oz jar maraschino cherries
1 12-oz can Dr. Pepper
1 3-oz pkg cream cheese
½ to 1 cup chopped nuts (I like pecans.)
Drain fruit and heat juice. Add Jell-O and stir until dissolved. Cool, then add Dr. Pepper. Place in refrigerator until it begins to gel. Add fruit, cheese, and nuts.

I confess I find this recipe a bit problematic. Black cherry Jell-O is requisite (it’s just not the same with regular cherry) and sometimes black cherry is hard to find. Only one store in Lewiston carries it. And I’ve never known what to do with the cream cheese. I mean – you just don’t add a block of cream cheese to Jell-O, even partially gelled Jell-O. After years of experimentation, I now drain the pineapple and cherries, chop the cherries, then gently blend the cream cheese with the fruit. Personally, I like the cream cheese to be a little chunky. If I over blend, then the Jell-O takes on a creamy look and the flavor of the cream cheese is overwhelmed by the sweet Jell-O.

Mike and I were newlyweds when I prepared this salad for a holiday extended family dinner. It was an instant hit, especially with the cousin tier. It is now a tradition at Thanksgiving though many pass it over. My own children aren’t fans. It’s really a dessert salad but we use it on the main buffet table.

I wish I had discussed the recipe with Bennie. I might at least have determined how she prepared the ingredients. But I didn’t talk to her about it because she never prepared it for us or mentioned it, and I’m not sure it was a recipe she treasured. I think maybe she made it for Mike and then she moved on from it. KW


Diane said...

It actually sounds kinda good to me! I may try it. I arrived here randomly (you know how the Internet is), and wanted to comment that my mom used to make a jello salad with cream cheese, and she would cut the cream cheese into cubes, then roll them into little balls before adding to the chilled-but-not-set jello.

When I tried it myself, my warm hands made the cream cheese too sticky to form nice balls (I'll have to ask Mom why hers didn't!), so I just cut the cream cheese into cubes (1/2 inch or less). It was fine. The thing that makes it delicious is suddenly finding a small chunk of cream cheese in your mouth as a contrast to the jello.

Leah said...

Aaah Dr. Pepper. In the 1960's a recipe was passed around my neighborhood with a catchy name "Dr. Pepper Spaghetti." Really tasty.

Also in the 1960's, I came home from getting groceries one day and my husband (now ex) lamented,"You never buy Dr. Pepper, that's my favorite soda pop." Well, good grief, we'd been married about 10 years when he made that comment. He never told me about his love for Dr. Pepper in all that time!

Kathy, I was going to remind you to go to the internet to find out how others add cream cheese to jello. Then Diane gave a very good answer. I, too, think that the cream cheese should be cubed for 2 reasons. 1. If you blend the cc into the jello, you lose that beautiful deep red black cherry color. 2. Small cubes of cc make for a luscious creamy surprise when you put it in your mouth.

Sometimes I spoon dollops of sour cream into jello as well as adding fruit. Dollops not too big, not too small. It's the same sensation as cream cheese chunks in jello, only smoother.

Did you know?: In the south, jello is called "congealed dessert/salad."

Kathy said...

Hi Diane! Thanks for sharing your insight on this recipe. I agree with you and Leah that small chunks of cream cheese are desirable. I think I'd prefer to cube the cream cheese rather than roll it. Perhaps if we roll quickly . . .

I ordered a Dr. Pepper cookbook from the company ten years ago or so. Even though we like Dr. Pepper, we didn't begin to cook with it.

We've always called it Jell-O, even if it's some other brand of gelatin. I notice in old-time radio ads, the Jell-O folks pointed out that they were the one and only Jell-O.

Leah said...

Kathy: You call it jello, because you grew up in the Northwest. In Missouri, we called it "jello," too. I didn't learn of the name "congealed dessert" until i was grown & found the name in southern cookbooks.

In Missouri, recipes are heavily influenced by southern cooking, but we stuck with the word jello. And, I'll bet Bennie called it "congealed dessert" since she lived in Arkansas most of her life.

Wikipedia has a page about trademarked names that became generic. Search for "List of generic and genericized trademarks"

Chris said...

I'm not much of a jello fan; it has to have lots of stuff in it for me to eat it. Cream cheese sounds like a good kind of "stuff!"

Mom used to make jello and serve it hot to us (not refrigerated) when we were getting over upset tummies. We'd drink it and I remember liking it very much.

Hallie said...

Just this last week co-workers and I were sharing about the jello, whip cream, cottage cheese, marshmallows and pineapple salad/dessert. I'm not much for pineapple and was dreaming up other fruit that I would substitute. I think it would be delicious with berries. I also enjoy the strawberry jello pretzel dessert, but don't make it often since it's just the two of us.

Leah said... either love it or hate it. My ex-sister-in-law made strawberry jello with fruit cocktail every single Thanksgiving & Christmas dinner in the 1960's. To this day, I can't stand fruit-cocktail.

I've forgiven jello, but find that some people are snobs when you mention the word. In the 1990's in L.A., a group of us were planning a pot-luck dinner. Someone said "Jello" and someone else from New York made a loud protest. Something about it being so ordinary, etc., etc. There was no jello at that event.

My favorite jello combo is lime with crushed pineapple & cottage cheese. And yes, the bright green turns to a milky mint green.

Kathy said...

Back in the day -- you know, the '70s -- I collected quite a number of Jell-O based dessert salad recipes. But I've always been amazed that Jell-O is touted as much as it is because it seems to me it isn't all that great -- not even all that flavorful. And it doesn't age well.

Besides Dr. Pepper salad and the strawberry pretzel salad (also good with raspberries), I like to mix dry lime Jell-O in a pint of cottage cheese and stir in pineapple and whipped topping.

I didn't know it was pineapple you objected to, Hallie -- or maybe I just forgot. Polly has an aversion to pineapple and Nina substituted chopped pears. I sometimes do that with the above lime salad. In fact, Clint prefers it that way.

And I also received warm Jell-O as a stomach settler, Chris. I don't think I gave it to my children, though.

Kathy said...

Hah! Leah, you and I were writing about lime Jell-O and cottage cheese at the same time.

I agree that Jell-O with fruit cocktail is rather common, but Mother made it often when I was growing up. And Mike likes it. Once when I complained of not being able to think of something for dessert, Mike said, "Kathy, don't you know how to open a can of fruit cocktail and stir it into Jell-O." I laughed to myself.

But -- if that's what he wants, it's easy enough to do.

Leah said...

I'll bet every family has a jello story to tell. Give Mike a pat on the back for eating jello. Sometimes when putting a meal together, jello is a perfect piece in the puzzle.

When I lived in Germany (most of 1958), the Germans made a large tart (12 inches in diameter) with various fresh fruits sliced and laid on top of the sponge cake. It had a glaze of clear gelatin that covered the fruit. Our German friends would assemble the tart and set it outside the window sill to chill. The gelatin "set" at temps well above the temps in a fridge. Many people in that era didn't have refrigerators in this little town. I've always wondered how their gelatin could set without a fridge. Maybe they added very little water to dissolve it.

My 2nd favorite jello recipe is made with raspberry jello, applesauce, & chopped pecans. Goes well with beef or port roast dinners.

Leah said...

And another jello comment. I've never heard of giving a child warm jello when they were sick. What a wonderful idea.

My mother gave me tea when my tummy was rumbling. It was years before I could drink tea when I wasn't sick.

Leah said...

Go to Wikipedia and read about Jell-O's history. There is a Jell-O museum in LeRoy, New York. They have a "Jell-O Brick Road" in the town. I didn't make that up.