If you were a classy lady living in the 1950's, chances are you were well acquainted with the Jell-o salad. This was a very popular way to get one's vegetables. Yes, vegetables were thrown into a Jell-o mold, turned out onto a platter and served as a salad. Nowadays, we are much more sophisticated with our Jell-o. We add fruit and salty snacks to make Strawberry Pretzel Salad.
My grandma was born in 1924, and was a stay-at-home mom during the 50's. And right up until her death several years ago, she would make a Jell-o salad to go with dinner. It was usually lime Jell-o with carrots shavings and raisins, and (I'm so sorry, Grandma, if you can hear me from the Other Side!) it was awful. We would all secretly cringe and cower when the jiggling mass of green was presented. Anyone remember Aunt Bethany's Jell-o mold with the cat food in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation??
In case you're scared as hell right now, let me assure you that this Jell-o "salad" is amazing. (Although I have no idea why it's called a salad; it's a damn dessert.) It's actually pretty popular Mid-Western picnic fare. But most people make it with strawberry Jell-o (dyes and chemicals and artificial flavoring) and Cool-Whip (oils). Again we go back to the nasty Jell-o salad days. Let's make this real, people. Strawberries (real), whipped cream cheese (real), and a pretzel crust (real) combine together to make a sweet, creamy, salty, crunchy dessert that is out-of-this-world summertime good.
And a word of warning ~ gelatin is not vegetarian. If you don't know what it is, I won't disgust you with the details (which are definitely vomit-inducing), but suffice it to say that if you're vegan, you won't be doing traditional Jell-o shots.
Strawberry Pretzel Salad
6-1/2 oz. pretzel sticks (not rods)
2-1/4 c. sugar
12 T. butter, melted
8 oz. cream cheese
1 c. heavy cream
3 lbs. frozen strawberries, thawed
1/4 t. salt
4-1/4 t. unflavored gelatin (2 packets, I think)
1/2 c. cold water
Pre-heat oven to 400°. Spray 9x13 pan with cooking spray.
Pulse pretzels and sugar in food processor until coarsely ground. Add butter and pulse until combined. Pour into pan and pat down well. Bake 10 minutes, rotating half-way thru. Let cool 20 minutes.
In bowl of electric mixer and using whisk attachment, beat cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar until fluffy. While running on med-high, add cream in steady stream. Beat until soft peaks form. Spread over pretzels and refrigerate 30 minutes.
In food processor (no need to clean), puree 2 lbs. of strawberries 30 seconds. Strain thru fine mesh strainer, pressing on solids, over medium saucepan. Add 1-1/2 cups sugar and salt to saucepan and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, until sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
Pour cold water into large bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over and let sit 5 minutes. Whisk strawberry puree into gelatin. Slice remaining strawberries and stir into mixture. Refrigerate until mixture starts to cling to sides of bowl. Pour over whipped cream cheese and refrigerate 4 or more hours until set up.
Adapted from Cooks Country Aug/Sept 2013