Welcome to Jiggle All The Way, The Takeout’s holiday celebration of Jell-O, gelatin, and all things wiggly. We’ll be releasing new feature stories and original holiday recipes every day this week, and each of them will have a little bit of wobble.
There is nothing salad-like about seafoam salad, which is possibly why it’s not as popular today as it was in the 1950s when people were much more chill about gelatinized malarkey. It’s a shame, too, because as far as Jell-O salads go, seafoam’s ingredient list is relatively sane: canned pears, lime Jell-O, cream cheese, a little bit of milk, and whipped topping. There are no bewildering additions such as mayonnaise, canned asparagus, or cubes of American cheese—everything is sweet, and as a whole it makes sense. Seafoam salad is a bright green showcase for the miracle of an industrialized food system, and it became one of the most popular dishes of the mid-20th century thanks to one the most foundational chain stores of the era: Woolworth’s.
In its heyday the iconic five-and-dime had over 4,000 locations across the country, most with a lunch counter that served short-order eats like ham sandwiches, pea soup, and tuna salad at bargain prices. Seafoam salad (or “salad,” as I feel required to add quotation marks) was a treat that could feed a fussy child for pocket change, and once America’s favorite retailer got a whole generation hooked on the stuff, it became a staple recipe for restaurants, cookbooks, and ladies’ magazines. Then, like most Jell-O salads, it disappeared from the national conversation and survived into the 21st century by virtue of the diehards who continued to make it at home each holiday season. The Takeout decided that seafoam salad needed to make a comeback for our Jiggle All The Way celebrations, not only because of its storied history, but because no mayonnaise would have to be purchased for its development.
Since we’re now two decades into the 21st century, our modern seafoam “salad” feels required to exude class and sophistication. In lieu of canned pears in syrup, I used fresh ones and gently poached them in port wine with warm mulling spices. Since lime Jell-O isn’t an ideal compliment for the rich flavors of port, use one that matches its notes and plays in the same color family; I’ve used cherry, strawberry, black cherry, and a mixture of all three, with excellent results. Serve for dessert, because that’s where it belongs.
- 4 large Bartlett pears, peeled and chopped into large pieces
- 1 1/4 cups port wine
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 pods star anise
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp. ground cloves or allspice
- Small pinch kosher salt
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
- 3 (3-oz.) packages cherry or strawberry Jell-O
- 8 oz. cream cheese
- 3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
Combine the pears, port wine, water, sugar, star anise, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, cloves/allspice, and salt together in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then drop heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the star anise and cinnamon sticks and discard.
In a blender, or in large bowl with an immersion blender, add the heavy cream, Jell-O, cream cheese, and vanilla. Add the hot pear mixture and blend for 1 minute until smooth and frothy. Strain the mixture to remove any gritty pear pulp, then pour into an 8-cup silicone mold. Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight. Serve cold.