How I learned to love gelatin salads

One Thanksgiving, disdain of gelatin salads morphed into devotion.

In a world that prizes celebrity chefs, handcrafted cheeses, and locally grown vegetables, few foods get a worse rap than gelatin salads. Yet those of us who crave a cranberry-nut or strawberry-sour cream molded salad remain staunch defenders of this lost genre of cooking – even though we may not go out of our way to advertise that fact.

I have to confess that until one memorable Thanksgiving Day, I was more of a scoffer than a fan of these much-maligned dishes. In my childhood home, gelatin salads never put in an appearance. Nor did I prepare them when I was out on my own.

To my prejudiced thought, gelatin salads represented all that was mediocre about cooking.

My relationship with gelatin salads continued to remain frosty until 15 years ago, when my husband and I joined friends to celebrate Thanksgiving at their home. When the 10 of us gathered around the over-flowing table, I naturally noticed the domed orange gelatin salad sandwiched between the mashed potatoes and candied yams. But I figured I could easily satisfy my hunger with more appealing offerings.

As the serving dishes began passing from hand to hand, I watched as the others scooped a generous portion of the creamy orange salad onto their plates. It was impossible to ignore the enthusiastic responses to what was obviously a beloved tradition.

I admit that my curiosity was piqued. So when the molded salad came my way, I spooned a tiny mound on my plate while asking myself, "How bad can this be if it's earned a place at one of the year's most important dinners?"

The answer immediately followed my first taste. To my amazement, I discovered I liked this retro salad with the bite-size orange segments. No, "like" wasn't the operative word; I loved it. I wanted more, please. I needed the recipe.

In the years since, I have shared the directions with others seeking an easy-to-fix holiday side dish that partners nicely with turkey and makes a dandy solo midnight snack. I have heard nothing but rave reviews from everyone who's tried it.

All that's required are five ingredients and enough patience to let the mold set up properly. If you tend to be a purist in the kitchen, don't forget to toss in a large measure of open-mindedness. That could be the most indispensable ingredient of all.

Triple Orange Salad

2 (3-ounce) packages orange-flavored gelatin

1 cup boiling water

1 pint (2 cups) orange sherbet

1-1/2 cups prepared whipped topping

1 (11-ounce) can mandarin orange segments, drained

First, measure the sherbet and whipped topping and set aside.

Then empty both packages of gelatin into a mixing bowl. Pour in the boiling water and stir until the gelatin completely dissolves, at least 2 minutes.

Working quickly, add the sherbet by large spoonfuls and, using an electric mixer, blend it into the dissolved gelatin mixture until it all melts. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl as you blend. Add the whipped topping and blend well using the electric mixer.

By hand, blend in the mandarin orange segments. Pour the mixture into a mold. Refrigerate four hours or until the salad has congealed.

Unmold by dipping base of mold into warm water until the salad loosens from the mold's sides. Turn upside down and serve.

Makes 8 servings.

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