Food & Drink

In Praise of Jell-O Salads (and Their Vessels)

The right pans give new life to treasured family recipes

Photo: Johnny Autry

Many Southern families have a go-to recipe for congealed salad (here are three of ours), probably written on a yellowed index card in a grandmother’s impeccable handwriting. These salads, or their kin, tomato aspic, have been brought to special-occasion tables for at least three generations, maybe more considering that the main ingredient—Jell-O—first came to market just before the dawn of the twentieth century. They’re the Southerner’s version of green bean casserole (created by the Campbell Soup Company in New Jersey, by the way), appearing whenever families gather for a big meal, be it Easter, Thanksgiving, or any other holiday. They’re touchstones in a shared culinary legacy, and for good reason. Congealed salads are beautiful, bright, and cool, and refreshingly acidic if made with a citrus flavor base. Plus, they will bide their time patiently for a day or two in the fridge, leaving you free for other party prep. But they won’t be showstoppers without the right pans.


Photo: Johnny Autry

The pans that produced these salads (left to right):

Minneapolis-based Nordic Ware invented the Bundt pan in 1950 and trademarked the name (that’s why similar pans are called cake molds or something like that). The company’s cast-aluminum pans, like this Lotus Bundt pan, remain the standard—for cakes and congealed salads ($34;


Made famous by Brownie Wise, who developed the party-sales strategy in Florida in the 1950s, Tupperware is an enduring classic. The Jel-Ring mold has changed little since it first appeared in the 1970s. It’s now available online as well as from local representatives ($15;


Copper’s malleability allows pans, like this sculptural Italian-made Ruffoni Historia cake mold from Williams Sonoma, to take on intricate shapes. And its conductivity helps congealed salads slip onto a platter without tearing after you carefully dip the pan in warm water ($90;