PERFECTION SALAD AND THE RISE OF THE AGE OF THE MOLDED SALAD
Mr. Charles B. Knox
Enclosed please find a receipt for salad. It is one of the finest salads I have ever had, was made with Knox’s gelatine and can be served in so many different ways. I am going to have this salad served at our next church supper, if I can, where we always feed from two hundred to two hundred fifty people. This salad is especially fine with fried oysters. I never use anything but Knox gelatine because it “jells” so quickly. Trusting this will meet with your approval, I remain,
Mrs. John E. Cooke
174 Boyles Avenue, New Castle, Pa.
In her American Century Cookbook, Jean Anderson writes that “In 1905, Charles Knox ran a recipe contest that launched the Age of the Molded Salad. Mrs. John Cooke of New Castle, Pennsylvania, submitted her recipe for Perfection Salad, a tart gelatin mold strewn with bits of cabbage, celery and sweet red pepper, which judges – Fanny Farmer among them – awarded third prize. The first and second place winners have been forgotten, but not Mrs. Cooke’s Perfection Salad. Knox printed the recipe in his next recipe booklet and continued to offer it in subsequent pamphlets printed throughout the twentieth century, updating it now and then to suit the times.”
Anderson goes on to write that “Perfection Salad inspired cooks as few recipes have. And the rise of Jell-O at approximately the same time, the proliferation of its fruity flavors, and the industry of its advertising staff in ‘papering’ the country with Jell-O recipes, fueled the molded salad boom.” The 1946 edition of The Joy of Cooking included 69 recipes for what its author, Irma Rombauer, called aspic salads. In it she advised that “Any clever person can take a few desolate looking ice box leftovers and glorify them into a tempting aspic salad.” The stage was set for gelatin salads to become the centerpiece of lady’s luncheons, church socials and bridge parties until well into the 1960s when, at least in more sophisticated urban areas, they finally fell from favor.
See There’s Always Room for Jell-O, the introduction to gelatin desserts on this website, for more gelatin history and some tips for working with it. Briefly, don’t skimp on the gelatin or your salad won’t stand alone, a spray of Pam on the interior of the mold before it is filled may reduce panic at unmolding time and, unless time is a pressing factor, an overnight jell is safer than just a few hours in the refrigerator.