The Jell-o Salad Recipe That Made Everyone Mad At Me Last Year

Maya Kosoff
8 min readOct 29, 2020

For as long as I can remember it sat, every November, on our Thanksgiving table, next to the turkey and the stuffing and the cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes. I assumed it was a universal tradition, a side dish everyone was familiar with. In first grade Mrs. Kulina asked us to draw a picture of what Thanksgiving looked like to us. Using only the brightest green crayons I could find, I drew my masterpiece, a quivering green lump inverted onto a glass plate: Seafoam salad. Everyone gawked at what I’d drawn, viscerally unhappy with my description of the Jell-o side dish. It was then, in 1998, that I realized that the lime Jell-o dish my family treated like a delicacy was not, in fact, normal.

Seafoam salad, 2019.

Here’s how you arrive at seafoam salad: you drain a big can of sliced pears, but you reserve the pear juice (have I already lost you?). The pear juice goes in a saucepan with some water until it boils, and then you add it to one large package of lime Jell-o in a heat-resistant bowl and you stir until the Jell-o dissolves. Add a cup of cold water. This will help cool off the pear juice-Jell-o mixture. Meanwhile, you want to blend the pears in a blender until they reach applesauce-like consistency. At this point you want to add the Jell-o mixture to the bowl (in Grandma Janet’s instructions, she notes that this mixture will splatter, so you want to “cover a little with foil.” We don’t do this because we don’t understand what it means.) Once it’s blended together, you want to take the cream cheese you have softened (“for most of a day,” per Grandma Janet. The person who runs the FDA is shaking.) and use a fork to mash in some cream, and then take this dairy mixture and mix it into the Jell-o-pear mixture. There’s a note on the index card to “add in pears,” but you’ve already done this, and it’s unclear to me how you could have come this far without incorporating the pears already, so ignore it. Once it’s a mostly homogenous pastel green color, you want to pour it into a mold and let it sit in a fridge overnight. Invert and serve at Thanksgiving the next day.

I’ve learned that there are a lot of families that make something resembling seafoam salad but the way it got to our Thanksgiving table originated with my dad’s family. It started with Harriet Lucasen, my dad’s great-grandmother. Harriet was born Harriet…

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Maya Kosoff

i’m a freelance writer and editor. you can also read me in places like the new york times and vanity fair.