Flashing back to childhood, that wiggly, colored gelatinous “dish” in its pure form was never a frequent guest at our table. For that, I am grateful. I dare say there were – and probably still are – boxes of Jell-O® in the pantries of most every household, ours included. Gelatin-based dishes did show up on various family occasions, always masked or transformed by a “dressed-up” appearance. I vividly recall three such dishes over the years: two salads and a divine strawberry cake.
Of the two salads served that made frequent appearances, Strawberry Pretzel Salad is probably the most well-known. Its origins can be traced to a Jell-O® cookbook, published in the 1960s to promote the versatility of the product and its popularity on Southern tables has withstood the decades. My mom often made this salad for holidays, but also for spring and summer meals. The strawberries and cream come together for a sweet, refreshing treat on a warm day. Some versions of this recipe include an 8-ounce can of crushed pineapple, but that’s your call. If you use it, add it to the strawberry mixture for the top layer.
There is a tearoom in our area that I frequent with two dear friends and we always order Strawberry Pretzel Salad at lunch. When I make this, memories of my Mom and those two dear friends warm my heart. Ladies, this is for you!
Strawberry Pretzel Salad
2 cups crushed pretzels, approximately 3 cups of pretzel sticks
¾ cup melted butter
3 tablespoons sugar, plus ¾ cup sugar
8-ounce package cream cheese, softened to room temperature
2 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2) 3-ounce packages strawberry gelatin
2 cups boiling water
2) 10-ounce packages frozen strawberries, thawed and cut into pieces
For the crust:
Mix the crushed pretzels, butter and 3 tablespoons of sugar together. (A quick and easy way to crush the pretzels is to drop them into a plastic storage bag and pound lightly with a rolling pin. This leaves large and small pieces adding to the texture of the crust.) Press this mixture into a lightly buttered 9” x 13” pan and bake at 400 degrees for 7 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.
For the layers:
In a mixing bowl beat together the cream cheese and ¾ cup sugar until smooth and creamy. In a separate bowl whip the cream with the powdered sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold in the whipped cream; spread over the cooled crust. Refrigerate until well chilled.
In a small bowl, dissolve the gelatin in the boiling water and allow to cool slightly. (You don’t want to pour something hot over the delicate layer of cream.) Add the strawberries to the liquid gelatin then pour over the cream cheese mixture. Refrigerate several hours until the top layer is set.