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Jello Salad

Jello Salad


Back in the early 1950's the food service was a cafeteria, and the dietician was Mrs. Helen Boyd, who lived in the College Hills neighborhood. Sunday was a popular time for many local church goers to come for lunch. My mother-in-law, Annie Lou Yielding, particularly enjoyed a frozen salad that Mrs. Boyd routinely served, so she got the recipe, and it is still used in our family.

This is it:

4 boxes red Jello
1 box lemon Jello
1 box Dream Whip
1 pkg. sm. marshmallows
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese
1/2 c. salad dressing
1 c. nuts
1 can crushed pineapple
Pinch of salt

Make 2 boxes red Jello. Pour in 2 loaf pans. Let set. Mix lemon Jello in 1 cup boiling water. Add marshmallows at once. Let cool. Mix Dream Whip with 1/2 cup milk. Add soft cream cheese. Add salad dressing. Pour in cool Jello. Add nuts and pineapple. Pour over set red Jello; let this set. Mix 2 boxes red Jello; let cool. Pour over top of white Jello. Let this set. Serve cold.


Harriet Yeilding, Class of 1953


Recipes enter the realm of folklore (or more properly, “folkways”) when they become traditional—handed down from one generation to the next. They are usually reserved for special occasions and are often accompanied by narratives, as in this case where a particular person is credited with its creation.

As stories and sayings knit people together as members of a group with shared values, particular foods/recipes have a bonding effect. Folklore collector Lin Humphrey notes that “[h]olidays for many people are a time of remembering and if possible recreating the past, the ‘good old days.' Food is a dramatic, yet simple way to make that connection” (165).

The use of Jell-O is interesting in itself since folklorists have collected and studied a large (quivering) body of “Jell-O Lore.” From her survey of undergraduate students, Sarah Newton concludes that “virtually everyone has one Jell-O story or another, and many stories have become part of the repertoire of family lore” (Newton 256). Almost no other commercial food product evokes such emotional responses: nostalgia, comfort, playfulness. Newton also concludes, to the delight of the Kraft marketing team, that Jell-O has long connoted innocence, fun, and purity.

But sometime in the 1960s Jell-O's image began to change; the dessert became the target of and vehicle for subversive and rebellious expression. (Remember Jell-O shots, Jell-O art, Jell-O wrestling?) Some attribute this change to Julia Child's corruption of the American palate with French cuisine (Newton 255), but certainly a food identified with the suburban consumer culture of the 1950s could not survive the 1960s unscathed.

At any rate, by the 1980s Jell-O had become associated with bland provincialism, as illustrated in many of Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon stories. “Garrison Keillor's funny and sometimes poignant vignettes of life in the ‘typical' Minnesota town of Lake Wobegon often capture the intimate and sometimes symbolic relationships people can develop between themselves, their world, and the foods they eat” (Newton 260).

Despite the fun Keillor has at the expense of the humble Jell-O Salad, his tales are about community and the little things that draw people together. “The power of tradition does not lie in the degree of difficulty of preparing the dish but in its connotations” (Humphrey 164). In other words, a folk-food's importance resides in the stories it engenders, the customs it maintains, and the memories it evokes.


  • Have other alumni preserved this recipe?
  • Are there other particular recipes that originated on campus?
  • Are there other foods that alumni prepare specifically for gatherings with other alums?


Email your comments, corrections, or additions to


  • Humphrey, Lin T. “Traditional Foods? Traditional Values?” Western Folklore 48.2 (April 1989): 162-69.
  • Newton, Sarah E. “'The Jell-O Syndrome': Investigation Popular Culture/Foodways.” Western Folklore 51.3/4 (July 1992): 249-68.