Aspics and Jellied Salads: Love ’em or Hate ’em?

Delicious or downright awful? Locals give their honest reactions to aspics and jellied salads.

Illustration of a plate of tomato aspic
Illustration by Anna Thornton

There is nothing people either loathe or love quite like aspic, and yet congealed salads have been around a long time. Cooks in the 1300s realized that the collagen from cooked animal parts produced a gelatin that would enclose the contents, thus preserving the meat and keeping bacteria out. A chef in the court of Napoleon later elevated aspic to a work of art, forming quivering creations in layers and colors fit for royalty. With the introduction of powdered gelatin, however, jellied salads became a mainstay on American dinner tables in the 1950s and Jell-O became a household name. While many Southerners still wouldn’t dare host a holiday without one, plenty of people gag at the thought and curse Grandma for her love of the wiggly molds. Here, MB readers share their true feelings about this gelatinous dish.

“Love ‘em — easy and delicious! We always make bing cherry congealed salad for Thanksgiving And aspic all summer long — it’s great with seafood!”Susan Warren

“I never serve congealed salad anymore except tomato aspic to women. My husband reminds me men hate aspic.”Jane Feagin

“No, I don’t have any memories with aspics or jellied salads because my family and friends aren’t sociopaths.” Ocllo Robinson 

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“Aspic and most jellied salads Remind me of Sunday Lunch with my grandmothers.”Margaret Seifert

“I like the taste, and it brings back so many wonderful memories. Love tomato aspic with artichokes and horseradish dressing!”Faye Sledge

“Because my wife, Nancy, and I discovered during our brief courtship that we were both crazy about tomato aspic, we spent the first year of our marriage trying many different recipes and loving them all. It was great fun. We had people over for dinner once every week for 52 weeks. A lot of recipes were tested and enjoyed, but the most fun were the delicious tomato aspics.”Dr. Norman McCrummen

“I do love a delicious fruity jell-o salad mold … but these savory suckers are not welcome at my table!”Amy Blaszyk

“There is nothing more unappetizing or unappealing than an aspic, and I’m blessed my grandmothers weren’t into them and didn’t make them.” (After a pause for careful consideration …) “But to be honest, if someone makes a fluffy lime salad, I’m going to have a bite or two because the pineapple-marshmallow combination is a wild one. Something about it just works. I don’t get it, but it does.”Ashton Hennig

“My mom made tomato aspic, which I still like. It’s made with bloody mary mix, minced onion, celery and sliced green olives. Spicy and good! You can also add boiled shrimp and some horseradish. Always served with a bit of homemade mayo.”Butch Tigner

Citronelle native Audrey McDonald Atkins once wrote an entire essay about aspics. She says, “I have a love / hate relationship with recipes that require something to gel. I’m probably one of the few people who have ever failed at Jell-O. My Mama’s recipe has never let me down though, and I’m sure it won’t let you down either.”

Freda’s Tomato Aspic Piquante

2 small packages lemon Jell-O
2 small cans tomato sauce
juice of 1 or 2 lemons
3 tablespoons cider or tarragon vinegar
1 shot Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon horseradish
3 or 4 drops Tabasco sauce
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon grated onion juice
1 or 2 ribs finely chopped celery
pepper, to taste
mayonnaise, for serving

1. Dissolve Jell-O in 1 1/2 cups boiling water. Add remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste.

2. Spray a ring mold thoroughly with Pam or olive oil and invert on a paper towel-covered baking sheet to allow excess to run out. Then fill the ring mold with the tomato mixture and refrigerate to gel.

3. When the aspic is thick but not gelled, give it a little stir to distribute the celery pieces. Otherwise, they will all float to the top and not be scattered throughout.

4. Just before serving, take a sharp knife and run it around the edges of the mold. Put your serving plate on top of the ring mold and flip the whole thing over to unmold the aspic onto the plate.

5. Serve cold with mayonnaise. Serves 8

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