Food & Drink

G&G Editors’ Family Jell-O Salad Recipes

One great way to help preserve Southern culture is to start at home—by reviving traditional family-favorite recipes. These are three of ours

Photo: Johnny Autry

Cranberry Congealed Salad

When my grandmother, Mary Alice Brown, prepared a holiday meal at which turkey was present, so was this cranberry congealed salad, one of several Jell-O-based sides she made for big family dinners at her home in Upstate South Carolina. Her son—my father, Lee—recalls that she preferred it as an alternative to plain old cranberry sauce. “It was always a Mama thing,” he says. What it wasn’t was a kid thing. Or at least this kid; unlike the Jell-O I happily dug out of pre-packaged cups, this one jiggled with unidentified fruit and nuts. 

Now I wished I’d been more open to the dishes she swore by, from scrapple to liver mush. Whenever I’d turn up my nose, she’d smirk, take a big spoonful of whatever it was, cut a side eye and say, “You don’t know what you’re missing.” Now I can find out, thanks to my Aunt Cheryl, who shared this recipe from Grandma with the Brown family text group this past Thanksgiving. 

Grandma started keeping house in the postwar years, when the Jell-O and commercially canned fruit required for these congealed salads (and a modern refrigerator to keep them cool) were both a novelty and a luxury. When I told my family we were using Grandma’s recipe in this story about reviving Jell-O molds, they were tickled pink. “But remember,” Dad typed to the group, “those salads never lost favor with her.” –Amanda Heckert, Deputy Editor



2 small (3 oz.) boxes strawberry-banana Jell-O
1 small (3 oz.) raspberry Jell-O
1 cup boiling water—mix with Jell-O till dissolved

1 (14 oz.) can whole berry cranberry sauce
1 large (20 oz.) can crushed pineapple with juice
1 whole orange (cut in eighths, take out seeds), grated in blender
½ cup sugar, less if you want it tart
¾ cup chopped pecans



Pour mixture into a casserole dish or mold to set and chill. This recipe makes about 10 cups, so use a 3 qt. dish or 10-12 cup mold, or divide between smaller dishes.

Green Jell-O Salad

When I saw Green Jell-O salad gelling in the fridge as a kid, I knew my Mom was in a really good mood. She worked full time, so anything she made for us in addition to standard breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and that also qualified as a treat, was really special. For whatever reason, this Jell-O salad also made her happy when she ate it. Even now, she’s smiley when she enjoys a giant bowlful at her kitchen table, simultaneously watching the deer and birds in her wooded yard. It’s comfort food. Her mother taught her the recipe, no doubt pulled off a box or out of a church cookbook in the fifties, and it’s been in Mom’s repertoire since. In my house, it’s comfort food, too. My husband will not touch it because he is a health freak and the mint-green Jell-O situation is a no-go for him. I, however, am willing to brave the artificial dyes for a dose of sweet nostalgia in the form of lemon-lime Jell-O, canned pineapple, cottage cheese, Duke’s mayo, and pecans. And I’m carrying on the tradition. As my two-year-old says of his grandmother’s recipe, it’s “daaaalishusss.” –Haskell Harris, Style Director


1 large (6 oz.) box lime Jell-O
1 qt. full fat cottage cheese
1 large (20 oz) can crushed pineapple, drained of juice
1 tbsp or so of Duke’s mayonnaise (stir the mayo in to create a marbled look)
Top with [chopped] pecans [or stir into the top of the slightly set mixture for a neat texture]


Mix Jell-O according to package directions, and stir in cottage cheese, pineapple, and mayonnaise. Pour mixture into a casserole dish or mold to set and chill. Top with pecans. This recipe makes about 10 cups, so use a 3 qt. dish or 10-12 cup mold, or divide between smaller dishes.

Sunshine Salad

When I called my Mom, Jenny Sue Johnston Rhodes, to ask for her recipe for Sunshine Salad and told her that I wanted to share it with G&G readers, she issued a warning: “It won’t be the same,” she said. “I always used my mother’s grater to grate the carrots, but it finally got so dull that I had to throw it away.” Nevertheless, Mom, we persisted, and I hope this recipe brings as much joy to readers as it has for me, regardless of how finely you might grate your carrots. When I was a kid in the ’70s and ’80s, this salad helped make healthy food fun long before anyone tried to sneak spinach into “kid-friendly” brownies or some such. Suspended in orange Jell-O, the slivers of carrots and bits of pineapple shone and shimmied on Pfaltzgraff Yorktowne plates, often beside salmon patties (which I loved) and canned French-style green beans (which I really did not). “Did you put raisins in the salad, too, sometimes?” I asked her, my memory a little fuzzy. “Oh, no, I don’t remember doing that,” Mom said. Good. Carrots and pineapple are one thing, but raisins? That’s a bridge too far. –Phillip Rhodes, Executive Managing Editor


1 small (3 oz.) box of orange Jell-O
1 small (8 oz.) can crushed pineapple, drained (reserve juice)
2-3 carrots, grated
1 cup of boiling water plus reserved pineapple juice



Prepare Jell-O with water and juice, stir in carrots and pineapple. Pour mixture into a casserole dish or mold to set and chill. This recipe makes about 4 cups, so use a 1 qt. dish or small 5-cup mold, or double the recipe for larger dishes.

The secret to any congealed salad is the right pan. Here are three of our favorites.