Perfection Salad

Monday 27 May 2019

Perfection salad . . .  my first memory of what I think is a most delicious salad comes from the early 1960's. My father and his friend Louis used to go hunting and fishing together.  

On one particular foray my mother took the three of us and we spent the weekend with Louis's wife Irene, while the men were off doing man-things.

Irene had been one of my mother's friends since her early working days as a secretary and I believe they had roomed together in Truro, Nova Scotia.  This whole weekend had almost a holiday feel to it . . .  at least to me it did. 

We did not often go anywhere as a family.  Mom was not a fan of the Great-Outdoors, so in the summer we might spend one day at the beach. That was it.

Getting to stay for a few days at someone else's home was a really big deal.  

I remember Irene and Louis had a huge vegetable garden and we were allowed to help them pick peas and beans and lettuces for supper on the first night.

There was also an element of danger involved as several bears had been seen in the area (which was quite remote) and so we were well aware of the need to keep a watchful eye out. On the first night I was sleeping in a small bedroom off to the side of the house.  

There was a box of Muffets cereal on the dresser and I remember being awakened by noise and what I felt was a bear trying to get in the open window to get at the Muffets.  

I screamed blue murder of course and refused to sleep there the remainder of our stay.  My mother's bed was very crowded after that! 

Another thing I remember, with much more clarity  . . .  is that Irene made Perfection Salad as a part of one of our meals, and it was delicious.  

So much so that it has stayed in the annals of my favourite food memories ever since.

It isn't perfect . . .  its a coleslaw of sorts and has a history that goes back to the beginnings of powdered gelatin way back when.  The original recipe was devised by a woman named Mrs. John E Cooke of New Castle, Pennsylvania.  

She entered her recipe in a contest sponsored by Charles Knox in 1905 (the major gelatin producer in the US at that time). Interestingly enough one of the judges was the Fanny Farmer of the Fanny Farmer Cooking School fame. (One of my all time favourite cookery books. I have worn out three copies in my lifetime.)

Mrs Cooke won third prize (a sewing machine) and people have been enjoying Perfection Salad ever since that time!

I have seen it created in many versions, most using boxed Jello (another American invention, fruity flavoured gelatin), normally lemon or lime, and they are good.  

My favourite version however is this one.  The made from scratch one, using all natural ingredients.

The gelatin mixture is fairly simple.  Its just some powdered gelatin softened in cold water and then mixed together with a bit of boiling water, sugar, fresh lemon juice and vinegar, along with some seasoning.

That gets chilled in the refrigerator until it thickens somewhat, about the time it takes you to chop all the vegetables  . . . .

I like to hand shred and chop my vegetables.  Its not that hard and I actually find it quite relaxing standing at the counter with my knife cutting the cabbage into thin shreds.  

I think if you were to grate it, it would be too fine and you want a bit of texture . . .

There are also celery and some red and green bell peppers.  I also chop these by hand and they are actually chopped quite fine.  Minced. Again, I fine this a very relaxing enterprise. 


Once I have the vegetables all done the gelatin has usually thickened enough so that I know that when I stir them into it they will be evenly distributed and not end up floating on the top. I also add some coarse black pepper.

You can either put the mixture into a mold to chill for several hours or into a square cake dish/casserole to chill. Either way is very nice.

Perfection Salad

Yield: 6
A type of jellied coleslaw.  Crisp cabbage, peppers and celery in a tangy from-scratch lemon jelly.  Delicious served on a bed of lettuce with a dollop of good mayonnaise on the side.


  • 2 TBS unflavoured powdered gelatin
  • 120ml cold water (1/2 cup)
  • 120ml boiling water (1/2 cup)
  • 50g granulated sugar (1/4 cup)
  • 120ml white or cider vinegar (1/2 cup)
  • 2 TBS fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp coarse black pepper
  • 1 cup finely shredded white cabbage
  • 1 cup finely chopped or sliced celery
  • 2 TBS finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 TBS finely chopped green bell pepper


How to cook Perfection Salad

  1. Sprinkle the gelatin over cold water in a bowl.  Let it sit for about 5 minutes to soften.  Whisk in the boiling water to dissolve along with the sugar, vinegar, lemon juice and salt. Stir until the gelatin and sugar have completely dissolved.  Place in the refrigerator just until the mixture begins to thicken somewhat and becomes syrupy. (from 25 to 35 minutes.)
  2. When the mixture has become like a thick syrup, stir in all of the vegetables and the black pepper.  Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired. You may or may not need more salt.
  3. Pour into a mold or a bowl. If the salad is to be served unmolded, rinse the mold first with cold water and put the mixture into the wet mold.  A square baking dish can also be used and should also be rinsed and left wet.  Chill in the refrigerator for several hours until set.
  4. Serve either from the bowl, or unmold by dipping the mold quickly into hot water, loosening it round the rim with a sharp knife, covering it with a serving dish and then quickly in one fast motion, reversing  so that the serving dish is on the bottom and the mold on the top. Give it a firm shake and then remove the mold.
  5. If it doesn't unmold, either dip it again in hot water or wrap the mold for a minute in a dish towel that has been dipped in hot water an quickly wrung out and try again.
  6. To serve in cubes, dip the baking dish quickly into hot water. Cut the cubes with a sharp knife, run the knife around the sides to loosen and then remove the cubes with a flexible spatula.
Created using The Recipes Generator

I did some in a mold and some in a square dish.  I have to say I prefer the look of the squares rather than the mold.  

The mold had little raised bumps around the top and when I dipped the mold into hot water to unmold the salad they kind of melted so my presentation was not as perfect as I had expected.  It still tasted delicious.  

Tangy, with a touch of sweet and plenty of crunch.  Perfect served with a dollop of mayonnaise. YUM!!!  I love revisiting my happy food memories. 

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  1. Your radishes are adorb:) I don't know if my mom was a fan of the outdoors but we did have a bear come in a screened in porch one night and that scared my mom to bits.We were in Ste-Emilie De L'Energie..:)

    1. I looked that place up and it looks a lovely area! I am with your mum I would have been scared to bits! Bears are really scary things! Those radishes are so easy to do, much easier than roses. Just criss cross! xoxo

  2. Fannie Farmer is my favorite cookbook too! Simple but good recipe in there is to use fruit juice in place of water when you make jello!

    1. You can't go wrong Kay. I have been using fruit juice instead of water in my jello for years. It adds so much flavour! xoxo

  3. Marie, are you certain about the amount of gelatin to liquid in your recipe? I have some which says that 1 TBSP will firmly set 475 mls of liquid.

    I don't mean to be a 'doubting Thomas' but would hate to end up with a solid lump!

    1. Absolutely certain Toffeeapple. Don't worry it won't be a solid lump. Not sure why it takes so much, but it turns out beautifully. Perhaps it is because there are lots of veggies in it? xo

  4. Thank you! xx


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