This recipe for Strawberry Pretzel Salad goes WAY back. I recall it primarily from when I lived in Raleigh, NC 30 years ago and it was a staple that would often show up at every barbecue and potluck dinner. Even then I never quite got the salad reference because it consisted of a sweetened crust made from pretzels and a filling that combined cream cheese and cool whip that was topped with a strawberry and jello mixture. I never quite liked it either. Blame it on the cool whip and jello. My grandma had me whipping cream in her kitchen when I was ten; it’s what I knew and what I loved and I could never quite get onboard with Cool Whip. Jello? It’s a texture thing; I’ll pass on Jell-O every time for that reason (much less artificial stuff reasons, thank you very much!).
Fast forward to today. I’m staying with friends that have a wealth of antiquities that they use on an everyday basis that are quite charming too. Kitchen utensils from their wedding over 30 years ago (yes, I admit, I see props in that bunch!), Pyrex bowls that are now back in fashion and some OLD cookbooks that I’ve had fun browsing through. Karen has a copy of a Ladies Evening Guild cookbook from 1988 from the church she attended at the time. The role at the time of the women in the group was categorized as Ladies Aid which meant making coffee, cleaning the kitchen and making dinners for church events. My feminist self could get my panties all in a bunch but it was 25 years ago and I’m going to assume times have changed at Grace Lutheran and today I would see men now helping with those chores while more women are busy making church decisions of a different order!
Still, it was quite the trip down memory lane. This book seems one that could have been put together from a myriad number of social events at the time. It includes Layered Salad; a layering of lettuce and veggies that are topped and sealed with a mayonnaise/sour cream mixture with cheddar cheese and bacon scattered on top before being refrigerated for 8 hours before serving, Frog Eye Salad; a combination of canned fruits, marshmallows, Cool Whip (again!) and Acini de Pepe; the small round pasta that characterized those eyes and last but not least the recipe for Pretzel Salad with words like margarine, Cool Whip, jello and frozen berries just crying out to me to be revisited and revitalized.
The pretzel crust stayed intact; it was a precursor to today’s taste for combining salty and sweet and it was good. The Cool Whip is a thing of the past and I cut the sugar in the cream cheese layer in half; a full cup would have been way too sweet in this updated version. Most important to me though is the strawberry layer. Fresh strawberries are sliced and put on the filling and then topped with my own version of Jell-O; fresh strawberries are mashed and cooked with some sugar and cornstarch to thicken and bind it all together. I used this same topping for my strawberry pie so I knew it would be a good change. While I offer ‘optional’ in the recipe for the addition of balsamic vinegar…please take that leap of faith; it adds so much to the end result.
This is no salad; this is full on dessert and I think from the way it disappeared, a very successful attempt to update an old classic.