Let’s have some fun. I’ve been stressing out over starting my PhD program, so let’s dial that stress back a little bit and talk about salads. Salads? Yup! Now, I don’t mean “eat-your-greens” salads. That would be too easy, and not really much fun at all. I’m talking about the kinds of salads that first made their appearances on the American eating scene around the 1920s – the kinds of salads whose main ingredients seem to either be gelatin or mayonnaise. Know what I’m talking about now?
We don’t really eat these types of salads anymore, and as a millennial born in 1987, I can’t say that I’ve ever eaten a salad like this (thankfully). So, I was a little nervous for when I would inevitably come upon a recipe for such a salad that I thought I should include in this blog! And lo and behold, as I flipped through The College Woman’s Cook Book, what was staring up at me from the pages but this little number: candle salad. Seems like a good introduction to vintage salads. It’s mostly made of fruit, has no gelatin, and only contains a bit of mayonnaise. How bad could it be?
Very bad is the answer. Yes, I actually made this and served it to my husband for dessert, and no, he did not enjoy it! But, like I keep saying, food has the power to tell us a lot about history because it captures trends, and it creates memories. And, when I served my husband candle salad and told him all about salads of the past – those designed to look like nature and common household decorations, as well as those constructed of gelatin and mayonnaise – he learned a little something about said trends that thankfully stayed in the past, and he made a new memory. Now, we’ll both always be able to think about the time I made (and we tasted) candle salad!
So, let’s put this thing together. Here’s the recipe I used for candle salad from The College Woman’s Cook Book published in 1923:
Here are our ingredients: Sugar, heavy whipping cream, canned pineapple slices (rings), a banana, mayonnaise, and maraschino cherries (not pictured: lettuce leaves).
Step 1: Okay, I’m an “above and beyond” kind of person, so I opted to make homemade whipped cream for my candle salad. You don’t have to. Trust me, this salad will taste just as good (or bad) with canned whipped cream. But, this is a good opportunity to learn how to make whipped cream! So, put two tablespoons of sugar in a mixing bowl.
Step 2: Pour a cup of heavy whipping cream into the bowl over the sugar.
Step 3: Whip the sugar and cream with an electric mixer until it becomes whipped cream. Mine took about five minutes! Store the whipped cream in an airtight container in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.
Step 4: Okay, let’s assemble the candle salad. Line a plate with lettuce leaves.
Step 5: Put however many rings of pineapple you’d like on the plate. These will serve as your candle bases.
Step 6: Cut a banana into sections. Use multiple bananas if you have to. I opted to go for the “varied taper” look, so I cut three different lengths. It’s best if you keep the bananas short, otherwise your candle salad will take on an… inappropriate look! Just warning you… Put the bananas through the holes in the pineapple so they stand upright.
Step 7: I took about two tablespoonfuls of the whipped cream we made, and I mixed it with a tablespoonful of mayonnaise in a separate bowl. Then, I spooned a dollop onto the tops of the bananas and pushed it down until it “dripped” down the sides like wax.
Final step: Then, I topped each candle with a maraschino cherry flame. You might want to rinse off the cherries before you put them on top so the juice doesn’t run all over the candles like mine did. It’s up to you, though!
Serve the plate proudly. You just made a salad in the shape of a household decoration. And, as you take a big bite of the mayonnaise and whipped cream covered banana, think about the fact that this was at one time a fashionable dessert that people served to dinner guests! I read one explanation that perhaps salads like this were used to get kids to eat their fruits and vegetables. However, from seeing old advertisements in magazines and reading old cookbooks and dinner menus, I think maybe that’s just a wishful twenty-first century theory.
In truth, these desserts embody everything popular and well-known about the 1920s-60s. They use convenience goods like canned fruit, branded gelatin, and prepared mayonnaise. They’re quick to prepare, which is great for the working woman. And, they have a flashy, over the top style (perhaps gaudy by today’s standards). They’re time capsules, really. And, while I think this candle was pretty disgusting, I learned a lot – and I got to think about a lot – while I made it!
From 1923: Candle Salad
- 2 Tbs. sugar
- 1 cup (8 oz.) heavy whipping cream
- 3-4 lettuce leaves
- 3-4 canned pineapple rings
- 1 banana
- 3-4 maraschino cherries, rinsed
- 1 Tbs. mayonnaise
- Make the whipped cream. Put the sugar and the heavy cream in a mixing bowl and beat with electric mixer 4-5 minutes until whipped. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- Line a plate with lettuce leaves. Place pineapple rings on top of leaves.
- Cut a banana into sections, and stand upright through holes in pineapple.
- Mix together 2 Tbs. whipped cream and 1 Tbs. mayonnaise in separate bowl. Dollop on top of banana candles and let drip down sides as wax.
- Top candles with maraschino cherry flames. Serve immediately.