I’ve got to level with you: this recipe is awful. I’ve chosen to reproduce it here because it’s uniquely awful and worth preserving as a historical curiosity. The version below is lightly adapted from The Best of Beta Sigma Phi Cookbook (1991), which is a compilation of selected recipes from Beta Sigma Phi cookbooks in the 1960s-1980s. This is by and large a wonderful cookbook and I encourage you not to judge the book nor the women of Beta Sigma Phi by this aberration.
To be fair, Jell-O salads are part of a generation with which I’m almost entirely unfamiliar. I’m old enough to remember gelatin salads at church potlucks, usually sweet but occasionally savory, and this is hardly the first such salad I’ve made in my exploration of vintage cookbooks. I remain a committed fan of actual, unadulterated Jell-O (especially jigglers) as well as fancy geleés served at high-end restaurants, but recipes such as this make me question whether we ever should have unleashed Jell-O into American kitchens.
Now Jell-O and Coca-Cola have a long history together. I have a 1933 Jell-O cookbook that includes a recipe with a Coca-Cola Lemon Jell-O dessert, and I quite liked another Cherry Cola Jell-O recipe from one of my vintage church cookbooks. And at first glance I figured that’s what I was looking at here. The ingredient list starts off simply: sugar, water, cherry pie filling, cherry Jell-O, and cola. This seems like an awful lot of sugar, but it is dessert and I’m willing to roll with it. The next ingredient is chopped pecans, which I don’t much care for in a Jell-O salad. They usually get soggy while the Jell-O sets which makes for an unpleasant texture, but they are hardly an unforgivable sin. Crushed pineapple? Fine. Cool Whip? Okay. It’s the final ingredient that transforms this from a run-of-the-mill dessert into a questionable life choice: “½ cup shredded Cheddar cheese”.
Now I wish I could say that this recipe was salvageable by simply omitting the cheese. And while it’s certainly less awful that way there are many better recipes out there. The Cherry Cola Jell-O recipe I mentioned earlier has a similar flavor profile, without the nuts and with a much more sensible amount of sugar. Cherry pie filling and added sugar just takes things way over the top.
I still like to think I’m keeping an open mind about adding savory stuff to Jell-O, and I’ll admit that they’re not uniformly awful. But you’ve got to pick a team. I get that cheddar cheese goes good on apple pies and that some people like to use Krispy Kreme donuts as burger buns, but this isn’t remotely the same thing. This is like putting cheese on a Slurpee or a milkshake. It should never be done.
- Boil water and stir in sugar and gelatin mix until dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in pie filling, cola, pecans, and pineapples (with reserved juice). Pour into a serving dish or mold and chill until gelatin has set, about four hours.
- Serve in individual bowls, topped with whipped topping and shredded cheese. But only if you must.