Sunday, January 20, 2008

Pretzel Salad - A Culinary Crime Against Humanity

Here are our desserts from my cousin Fallon's birthday party this weekend. Remember on Electric Company, or maybe it was Sesame Street, when they sang that song and you had to pick which one of these things is not like the others? I have a clue for you - PRETZEL SALAD. There it is, in its gelatinous, red glory. Please also note the maracas. Those, along with the beautiful white chocolate cake were provided by my friend Emma, who is the epitome of class and style and never comes to a party empty handed. We had a little Mexican theme going on for the evening and Emma went to the party store with a grand vision of plastic sombreros which floated in cocktails and perhaps a few other colorful decor to set the mood. She asked the saleslady where they kept the "Mexican themed items" and was met by a fierce stare.

"Umm, excuse me ma'am, but it's FIESTA and the FIESTA themed merchandise is in aisle 7, ok. It's FIESTA."

The woman was really ticked about it, so I'm just letting you all know that the next time you need a pinata or some maracas for your party that your taco night is not called MEXICAN, it's FIESTA. Jeez. Get it right people, ok? FIESTA dammit.

In any event, our FIESTA was great and yes I did make that damned pretzel salad in spite of the fact that my status as former professional cook should be revoked for doing so. Sometimes you have to do things for the people you love if it makes them happy even if you don't like it.

I had to do a lot of research on pretzel salad, culinary atrocity that it is. I had never made one before and although I knew roughly what was in it, I didn't know the proportions or how exactly one gets Jell-O on top of Coolwhip without the two abominations running all together and creating a far worse abomination. Thank God for the Internet where one can find a million variations on pretzel salad as well as hundreds of sites and blogs with posts singing its praises. No wonder our country is in trouble. People are eating pretzels and Jell-O. What's next people? Pudding Burgers?

I found site after site where commenters just raved and gushed about how good the pretzel salad looked and how they loved it and were going to/ already had made it and how amazing and simple and earth shatteringly perfect was the salade de pretzel. You would think the shit was made from pure gold. I realized then that most food bloggers and the people who read and comment on them are a combination of full of it and too polite, because pretzel salad does not in fact, look good, by any stretch of the imagination. And its not just pretzel salad. Plenty of other food blogs post photos and recipes for things that I can tell are disgusting and all the commenters commence complimenting it immediately. Pioneer Woman Cooks - perfect example. The woman can post a recipe for lasagna made with breakfast sausage and cottage cheese and the blogosphere goes wild over her 17 pictures of her cutting open a tube of Jimmy Dean and glopping some cottage cheese over noodles and she gets 785 comments all saying how good it looks. No it doesn't. It does not look good. I don't care if you live in the wilds of Cow Ranch, USA and can't get ingredients, you should never EVER EVER use cottage cheese in a lasagna. And yes I'm jealous of her traffic and her graphics so you can just forget that comment you were about to leave me about how good that cottage cheese is and how I'm just jealous because she's more popular than I am and was on CNN. I would love to be on CNN for something good. Right now my best chance at being on CNN is if my parents do something notorious and Nancy Grace has to interview me about it and make me cry, or if we have another hurricane. I could be the dirty looking redneck in the tank top holding a beer and standing knee deep in flood waters and debris who says it sounded like a freight train. Then I could be all like "Anderson Cooper, ain't you that Gloria Vanderbilt's son? I just bought me a pair of them jeans at Ross last week. I heard you was a homo. Is that true? Tell me it ain't cuz yer cute."

But back to the pretzel salad. It was worse than I remembered. The recipe I settled on was from, where else, Cooks.com, a veritable hot bed of white trash recipes. Entertain yourself sometime by going on there and searching simply Jell-O. You will die. You know what, I'll do it for you. HERE. Have fun. It is there that I learned about a rare version of pineapple pretzel salad. Who knew?? Pineapple!

The pretzel salad was easy enough once I accidentally obliterated several pretzel rods in the blender and realized I had to crush them by hand instead. I made sure I used the cheapest, most generic pretzels I could find for authenticity and I used store brand Cool-Whip too for the cream cheese layer. As for the Jell-O layer, get this, it's mixed with frozen strawberries which make it set quicker because they are so cold. It's freakin' genius I tell you. That's why it doesn't melt all into the cream cheese/ Cool-Whip (or in my case, whipped topping) layer.

As I constructed the pretzel salad I began to muse over its origin. Who came up with this? It appears to be a sort of trailer park cheesecake as best as I can figure. It has crust, cream cheese and fruit on top, which is fairly cheesecake-esque, but then it's also really salty and really sweet at the same time, as cheesecake is not. The redneck palette seems to favor strong salty-sweet combinations though, so perhaps when Wandella came up with this, she thought she was actually improving on the standard cheesecake. I don't really know. I can say at least that pretzel salad is slightly easier to make than a cheesecake, so perhaps that was its original appeal.

My husband was optimistic. He thought this was going to be one of those things that sounds gross but then when you try it, it's surprisingly good. I tried to tell him it wasn't, so he tasted it anyway, as did my exceedingly polite guests.



Here it is all cut and ready to eat. It's disturbingly firm. You have to be really careful to scrape up all the pretzel from the bottom of the pan too because you don't want to miss out on a single crumb. Terrifying, isn't it? Look how it just glistens.

Here is a slice of the pretzel salad, just where it belongs on a paper plate. It just wouldn't be right on fine china, you know? It might mess up the taste (forgive me if the alignment is jacked up, I'm not great at adding pictures on blogger for some reason).

I'm thinking about starting a pretzel salad fan club, since so many people seem to love it. If you want to dare and try making it yourself HERE is the version I used, courtesy of Miss Mary Boyd, who I picture as a plump Mennonite lady from the Midwest who has 13 kids. I could have chosen from any of about 379 pretzel salad recipes but what really got me about Miss Boyd's version was this line:

"Serving on a lettuce leaf or with a sprig of green is always a pretty touch."

I mean, how can you argue with her? Is that priceless or what? And she's right. Lettuce leaves are always a pretty touch, especially with desserts, but then again, maybe I've finally hit on the answer to why this is called a salad though it bears no resemblance to any salad I know other than that it's cold. DUH. If you serve it on lettuce leaves it HAS to be a salad. God, how did I not realize that?

For more pretzel salad love I've compiled a list of blogs involving it.

The Equivocal Epicurean - thinks it's better than the sum of its parts. She is entitled to her opinion of course.

Musical Mom - loves pretzel salad AND Jesus, which is very important.

Party of Six - mentions that her friend introduced her to desserts that sound gross and weird but are delicious. I beg to differ, but I'm with her on the gross and weird part all the way. I liked the comments on this one.

There you go people. Pretzel salad. I made it. I love my cousin. A lot. Enough to let her take the whole pan of it home with her.

43 comments:

Gina said...

Pretzel salad is disgusting, but I'd take it any day over my (in-law) family's ever-present pizza dip (made with cream cheese, pepperoni and sauce) or reuben something or others (crumbled breakfast sausage & thousand island baked on mini reuben slices).

Erica said...

Yes, that song is from Sesame Street! I started singing it the other day when one of the horses I work with got loose with the goats and my boss gave me the weirdest look. And as redneck as that may make me sound, I too believe that that pretzel salad looks disgusting.

Green said...

I'd totally taste that shit.

anon. reader said...

Someone call Homeland Security.

I could not resist and clicked on the link. Oh how horrifying, who could do this to to an innocent head of cabbage? (see dressing recipe below) Surely this is against the U.S. Constitution to use lethal doses of lemon jello, beets, cabbage, and paprika together, and then EAT IT????

By the way, your Pretzel Salad looks quite innocent - you did a lovely job and turned that sow's ear into a silk purse, Anon.Reader

BEET JELL-O

1 (3 oz.) box lemon Jell-O
1 can shoestring beets (save juice)
Blades from 3 green onions, chopped
Water
1 tsp. sugar
Vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

SOUR CREAM DRESSING:

2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. dry mustard
2 tbsp. vinegar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 pt. sour cream
1/2 head cabbage

Add enough water to beet juice to make 2 cups. Add sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Heat to boiling point and pour over Jell-O and add to beets and onions. Pour into six cup Jell-O mold and jell.

To serve: Combine ingredients for sour cream dressing and add to 1/2 head finely chopped cabbage. Place Jell-O servings on bed of cabbage and sprinkle with paprika.

Anonymous said...

The most disgusting thing I ever saw was "The Kitty Litter Cake". I guess it tastes fabulous and is basically a joke coupled with a rather good dessert.

Link: http://www.fabulousfoods.com/recipes/dessert/cakes/kittylittercake.html

~Maureen~

the Bag Lady said...

The Bag Lady leads a sheltered life way out here on the ranch - she has never even heard of Pretzel Salad. It must be rather slow at sweeping the nation...or perhaps she needs to get out and visit a few rednecks in trailer parks. Who knows, perhaps it's already on every table here in Hicksville, prettily sitting on a lettuce leaf; right beside the ketchup on toast, and mashed potato sandwiches...

MP said...

I don't recall when, I think it was maybe 1990ish..I went to a family potluck..and what was on the table? Strawberry Jello/Pretzel Salad. And there was a layor of cool whip on top..and look at the cute little blueberries..it looked like a flag! I HATE blueberries..so I dug in on the other side...OMG..the saltieness of the pretzel plus the fresh strawberries..and smooth, cool, wiggly jello and OMG the cool whip was devine! I never had such a thing before! I was going nuts, "what is this, why have i never had it before???". I never MAKE it, since I don't do desserts..but everytime I see it at a potluck there is an extra skip in my step to the table!!

Wide Lawns said...

Holy Crap!! Lemon Jell-O with BEETS in it??? Beets from a can? EWWWWWWWWW!!!!

inqydesu said...

Pretzel salad is teh awesome. The key is to drop the strawberries, and use raspberries. Also, forget the coolwhip and go with bonafide real whipped cream. Also the carmelized pretzels.....

My wife's family serves it every thanksgiving and easter. On China.

Most of the jello recipes go back to the day that gelatin recipes were a rich person's food. As before Jello, making a gelatin dessert required a full day of labor, including boiling bones, cooling, heating etc, to get the gelatin. Only the rich could afford the help to make it. So some of the savory jellos resulted. Still disgusting to me.

rosie-b said...

I went to that link to see all the delightful things one could make with jello but got scared and stopped when I saw something called "Finger Jello". . .

Amblus said...

You had me at "ain't you that Gloria Vanderbilt's son?"

And dang, that is some nasty looking salad. I'd probably at least try it though. And then I'd eat the rest while making fun of it. And then I'd have another helping just to make sure it was gross.

Wide Lawns said...

InQ - That is a really enlightening comment. Thanks! I had no idea and it makes total sense! But yeah, still gross anyways.

I'm also interested in your denastification of the pretzel salad. I might like raspberry better too, and sweet pretzels might make all the difference along with real whipped cream. My sister and I were wondering how it could be made palatable and I thought maybe a crust with unsalted pretzels, maybe mixed with chopped pecans would be good. Or, just scrap the pretzels totally and use pecans and shortbread cookies broken up instead and top it with a homemade jam of some kind. I was really put off by the firmness of the Jell-O layer. It skeeved me out.

Reb said...

Never had pretzel salad, but try this, it has a better crust and you can use your choice of pudding flavours and nuts. I have used chocolate and almonds.

http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1613,146163-252199,00.html

It's called Two Tone Dessert, if the link doesn't work.

PunkRockHillbilly said...

My mom makes that salad, but she works with seniors, so I forgive her for a lot of her crazy recipes...they are usually from someone who is 102.

My grandma used to make this kick-ass jello that only her and I enjoyed. Bing cherries, green olives, and walnuts floating around in orange jello. Don't hate...appreciate.

BTW- Thanks for being my fourth reader!!!

Manda said...

I think these "desserts" come from thriftiness. All of my ancestors (from great grandma on back) were farmers, you used what you had on hand. So by golly if it was canned pineapple, carrots and lime Jello; that was "salad". The best place to find these recipes is Church Fund Raiser cook books in any rural community. Some sample titles from my mom's church: "Cranberry Delight", "Cherry Chiffon Dessert" and "Circus Candy Jello Dessert". That last one makes me nauseous.

AG said...

I don't care if you live in the wilds of Cow Ranch, USA and can't get ingredients, you should never EVER EVER use cottage cheese in a lasagna.

My mother used to make her lasagna using only cottage cheese and bargain mozzerella. It was nasty. I grew up thinking that I hated lasagna, which is a crying shame. I didn't hate lasagna, I hated my mother's cheap-ass attempt at lasagna. Come to think of it, there were a lot of things I thought I hated as a kid that I love as an adult. Meatloaf, for example.

My aunt makes a version of the pineapple pretzel salad, only hers did not contain jello. It really does end up tasting like a pineapple cheesecake. I make it maybe once every few years, just for nostalgia.

Gillian said...

Pretzel Salad? Eeauw! I was reminded of this blog, (http://dowhatnow.typepad.com/do_what_now/) which is full of delightful snark about gelatine salads, (which the author refers to as Satan's Salads, as only Satan could come up with such an evil idea!) Thought you might enjoy it.
Love your blog :)

our little world said...

This is too damn funny b/c I was just on PW's site today looking at that recipe thinking about making it for the super bowl! ha! Now I feel kind of silly for doing so!

Wide Lawns said...

Little World No. You are not making that abomination. The best lasagna recipe in the entire world, which is a whole lot tastier and healthier is the Barefoot Contessa's. You can find it on foodtv. It has turkey sausage and ricotta mixed with a little goat cheese which is not gross, I promise. If you have people who are freaked out about goat cheese, just lie to them and they'll never know.

Lana Wood said...

Pineapple?

My latent hick gene tells me pineapple and jell-o do not mix. Something about the pineapple impeding the jello from setting.

I do not dig pretzel salaed. My two favorite jello recipes involve the jello and sour cream, and the other is jello, cool whip, and lady fingers, kinda like a poke cake on acid. Both are so freaking good if you need Jesus, you get Him by eating it because it is a religious experience.

I loved Seasame Street, one of these things is not like the others three of these things are one in the same...

Anderson Cooper is indeed cute, that was funny. Y'all know he ain't gay, he just ain't met the right girl yet.;O)

Anonymous said...

I feel I have to add that Pretel Salad can also withstand a 2 hour car ride up the Florida Turnpike with the heat on due to 45* weather and a pit-stop at a scary rest stop bathroom. Hooray Pretzel Salad!! Although, I need to confess it is not one of my favorites. Definitely worth a try though! :)

Anonymous said...

I promise that "salad" would look and taste better if it wasn't in a tin foil dish......... not trying to be hateful.........

I'm just saying........

Love your blog!

FirstNations said...

in one brief phrase you nailed Cooks.com to the WALL, my dear. cruelly apt! kaCHOW!

JDogg said...

Wow, and I thought that the green bean casserole was bad....

Wide Lawns said...

I know that tin foil dish is stylin, but I made it in there so Fallon could take the pan home with her and she lives a few hours away.

misha said...

i used to hate jello but have discovered i can deal w/ it if i have some whipped cream. I also dip my fries in my shake so I have to try this pretzel salad. The fancy one of course ;)

SLRd said...

If you think I'm brave for waxing my own eyebrows, you'll think I'm appallingly stupid for this little number.

Thanks for the comment!

JoeinVegas said...

Um, still sounds disgusting to me.

Sarah said...

Alright, I can understand why you wouldn't want cottage cheese in lasagna - but it's not as bad as you might think. I suppose that recipe isn't really lasagna per se, but I have actually made it and it tastes pretty good. Super easy and fairly tasty - my roommate really liked it too and he ate pretty much the whole pan. I'm not a gourmet or anything, and I have had lasagna that is better the PW's, but it ain't half bad. Just sayin' is all.

Also, Pretzel Salad looks way gross. I guess that makes me a hypocrite ;)

Yerba Buena said...

That looks...horrifying. You must really love your cousin - the worst thing anyone can get me to make is potatoes au gratin in their cheddar-cheesy bechamel-laden glory. I think the worst food I've ever encountered is at my family's annual Fourth of July barbecue. My mother's friend always brings over some CoolWhip-Jello-godknowswhat concoction. I love Jello. Just...not with CoolWhip.

Lasagna is the food of the gods, and the mere thought of cottage cheese in it is just plain evil. We've always made it using my tomato sauce, with chopped-up hardboiled eggs, cooked and drained spinach, and crushed-up homemade meatballs in the various layers. Not to mention ricotta mixed with raw egg (as a binder), parsley, salt, pepper, and shredded mozzarella and parmesan. Now THAT is lasagna. What you described is an abomination.

Whiskeymarie said...

My In-laws have a version of pretzel salad at every gathering.

(Shameful confession coming...)

And I like it.

But I like jell-o way more than is normally socially acceptable.

Oh, and I grew up with the cottage cheese lasagna- we kids hated it so much my mom would make us a separate pan w/o the offending stuff.
Ick.

And, in case you didn't see, I'm making the butterscotch budini for you this weekend. I think I'll now make you some sort of jell-o monstrosity too.

Cathie said...

Never in my life have I seen or heard of Pretzel Salad!! But then again I am from Australia. You are really brave to make that stuff!! The whole Jello-O food culture in this country is completely baffling to me.

Kim said...

This SO reminds me of Christmas with my soon-to-be in-laws. At every holiday gathering, I hear someone say that so-and-so made a "Million Dollar Pie" but alas, it's always gone before we get there, so I'd never actually gotten to sample this supposed delicacy myself. Well, as luck would have it, my fiance's stepmother actually made one and BROUGHT IT OVER TO THE HOUSE, where my future sister-in-law raved and smacked her lips and declared that the entire pie was hers. I begged for a taste-- I just HAD to see what all the fuss was about. I attempted to slice said pie, only to find that it was just a gloppy mess. Oh well, I thought, I'll just SCOOP a dollop onto my plate, then. I sat down with my plate, spoon at the ready, mouth watering in anticipation of what was sure to be the taste of heaven itself...only to get a great big bite of cool whip with pineapple chunks. "Is this just cool whip and pineapple chunks?!" I asked. "NO! There's mandarin oranges and pecans and sweetened condensed milk in there too!" my stepmother-in-law responded. "So million dollar pie is actually more like $3.75 pie then," I said, barely able to control my sarcasm. "Are you kidding? This right here? This is PRICELES," responded my sister-in-law, and then she sat there and ate THE ENTIRE "PIE" herself. Her other favorite dessert, by the way, is something called "Oreo Delight", which is nothing but chocolate pudding with broken Oreos and cool whip on top. Un-freakin-believable.

Katherine said...

Whoa whoa whoa, what's with all the cottage-cheese-dissing going on here? Cottage cheese is made much the same as ricotta (also a traditional ingredient in lasagna), and I usually mix that with my parmesan-mozzarella-egg mixture. Yum.

Lunch Buckets said...

I prepared and served club crackers topped with canned cheese and wrapped in bacon because Pioneer Woman commenters are gushing raving lunatics. And I am a sheep, and easily led.

Anonymous said...

Coming from an Asian/Hispanic background...this Midwest dessert intrigued me so much that I'm going to make it tonight! It's definitely a strange combination, but I love sweet/salty desserts. Don't be such food snobs!

Anonymous said...

It's awesome stuff!!! Can't believe all the negative comments out there! Be Positive, people!

Anonymous said...

This really is the grossest dessert. My future in laws love this dessert and frankly I tried it, made it and will never make it again.

Anonymous said...

You have no taste. I find it funny that all comments have to be approved by you. i bet you delete all the comments that don't agree with your opinion on the topic. How sad.

Anonymous said...

hahaha wow, the pretentiousness of this post and the comments on it are unbelievable. get off your high horse and stop trying to convince yourself that you're too good to enjoy a simple dessert.. pathetic.

Cara said...

This totally cracked me up because I don't actually hate the dish, but I hate being the one everyone asked to make it. Apparently everyone in my husbands family loves the dish that was introduced to them by his cousins now ex-wife. Since their divorce no one was able to make it correctly (which is beyond me) so I gave it a go once. It came out apparently good and since then when I ask what can I bring to a party I get asked to make the "salad". I guess I feel it is so below my culinary skills (LOL).

Anonymous said...

You never really say that you don't like it. You seem to only dislike the idea of it, with all its processed ingredients.

The reason I found your blog anyway is because I'm from Delaware, and there is some talk that Pretzel Salad is a Delaware invention. Researching.

Side note: Waldorf Salad, Ambrosia Salad...not really salad-like either.

Katie Mansfield said...

I love Pretzel Salad and I love your blog post about it. It is my favorite dessert believe it or not.
There is something about the salty and sweet, cheesy combo I just love.
They guys in my family don't love it all. I made it Mother's Day because on that day I don't care if they don't eat dessert.
Hilarious blog post.

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