Food & Drink

sunshine salad & a midcentury potluck party

After meeting up with the ladies of Milwaukee Vintage Style Society for some historic bowling, I knew that the amount of retro fun in my life was about to take a major upturn. When the invite came for a midcentury-inspired potluck party, there was only one dish that came to mind: Jell-O!

I’m morbidly fascinated with the midcentury obsession with Jell-O. There are few dishes quite as terrifying as some gelatinized version of regular food, but at the same time, Jell-O can be a fun and delicious dessert. For this vintage potluck, I opened up my 1961 copy of The Joys of Jell-O and found…a lot of terrifying things. There are definitely some weird dishes that I’d like to make out of morbid curiosity at some point, but this was an actual dinner party: I wanted to bring a dish people would actually eat! After some online research and a quick recon chat with my grandma, I decided on a Sunshine (or Sunset) Salad.

I found this recipe in The Joys of Jell-O, but since I had a larger mold, I ended up using this recipe for “Grandma’s Sunshine Salad” as the main base. It’s super easy to make – the hardest part was grating the carrots by hand, but you could def easily do it in a food processor or just purchase shredded carrots (the true midcentury way – take a shortcut!). I also was only able to get my hands on cubed pineapple, not crushed, so I gave it a quick blast in my Magic Bullet. I think that mine ended up being smoother than the intended recipe, but that’s fine by me.

If I was getting dressed up for a dinner party, obviously I had to dress up my Jell-O salad too! I gave it a nice bed of lettuce to lay on, like the illustration in the cookbook showed, and veryyy carefully transported it to the party with the top portion of the mold covering it for safety. (One of the other guests ended up with some of her Jell-O dripping on her foot during the ride over, so I’m glad I took extra precautions!)

The verdict? Pretty good, actually! Carrots are sweet and mild enough that they go pretty well with the fresh, citrusy flavor of the “salad.” The texture of them was a little weird from the rough grating, so I actually would go with some pre-shredded or matchstick carrots if I were to make it again to try to keep a little more crunch in the final product. But it was quite refreshing, especially alongside the rich, buttery, mayonaisse-filled dishes that make up a lot of midcentury cooking. I’m definitely still tempted to try some of the more “intense” Jell-O dishes in the book, but it’s good to know that I have a tasty option that’s just wacky enough to be fun.

Best of all, I got to share my Jell-O salad with a bunch of lovely people! There’s nothing better than sharing good food with friends, and everyone in the group has been so sweet and welcoming. I’m looking forward to many more vintage adventures with all these awesome ladies (and their gents) – I’ll make sure to share!

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