My Mother’s 1930s Party Salad

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Yield:

    8 to 12


Appears in

Craig Claiborne's Southern Cooking

Craig Claiborne's Southern Cooking

By Craig Claiborne

Published 1987

  • About

In all my years at The New York Times, I never printed a recipe for commercially packaged, fruit-flavored gelatin salads—not until I wrote a nostalgic piece about my mother’s cooking. She was, many years ago, interviewed by a then-well-known and now defunct magazine called Liberty. The author called her “the best cook in town” and printed a few of her most admired recipes. My mother was a great bridge player, and when she entertained, one of her party dishes was a three-layered gelatin affair. The bottom layer was green and made with lime-flavored gelatin. The middle layer was white and made with cream cheese flavored with grated onion and lemon. The top layer was red, a jellied, well-seasoned tomato aspic. It is not the most sophisticated dish on earth, but it sure smacks of my childhood.


First Layer

  • 1 box (3 ounces) lime-flavored gelatin

Second Layer

  • 2 packages (3 ounces each) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated raw onion
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Salt to taste, if desired
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • ¼ cup boiling water
  • 1 cup heavy cream, whipped

    Third Layer

  • 2 cups tomato juice
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • Salt to taste, if desired
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Tabasco sauce to taste
  • 1 large celery rib

The Garnish


  • Prepare the lime gelatin according to package directions. Pour the mixture into a cake pan measuring 8 × 8 × 2 inches. Refrigerate until set.
  • For the second layer, put the cream cheese and milk into a deep mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed. When thoroughly blended and smooth, add the onion, lemon juice, and salt.
  • Put the gelatin and water in a heatproof cup and set the mixture in a small pan of boiling water. Stir until gelatin dissolves and becomes clear. Pour this into the cream cheese mixture. Fold in the whipped cream. Do not refrigerate or allow to set.
  • When the lime gelatin is chilled and set, pour the cream cheese mixture on top, smoothing it over. Refrigerate.
  • For the third layer, put ¼ cup tomato juice in a heatproof cup and stir in the gelatin. Set the cup in a small pan of boiling water. Stir until gelatin dissolves.
  • Put the remaining tomato juice in a mixing bowl and add salt, pepper, lemon juice, Worcestershire, and Tabasco. Add the gelatin.
  • Grate the celery very fine and add it to the tomato juice mixture.
  • When the cream cheese layer is set, pour the tomato mixture over all. Chill until set.
  • When ready to serve, run a knife around the outside of the layers. Turn the pan upside down on a large plate. Run a towel under very hot water and squeeze well. Place the hot towel over bottom of pan. Repeat until the salad can be shaken loose from the pan.
  • Run a long sharp carving knife under hot water. Wipe dry. Cut the salad into 8 to 12 squares. Serve, topping each square with a dab of mayonnaise.