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Mennonite Cream Cheese Jell-O Salad

November 7, 2014

This salad is one of the foods that says “holidays” to us.

P1020260(I cannot lie. This is my wonderful sister-in-law’s overflow holiday table from a couple years ago.)

I grew up in a Mennonite home when a mainstay at any potluck, family reunion, or holiday meal was any of a variety of Jell-O salads. This was also one of the first salads I grew “expert” at making while I still lived at home. Mom loved turning this dish over to me when we had company.

Congealed (eww, that word doesn’t even sound good) salads were an easy way to throw together an attractive and tasty (and sugary) dish that usually included at least fruit, sometimes vegetables (carrots, celery, cabbage), and sometimes whipped cream, cream cheese, nuts, maraschino cherries and the kitchen sink.

While gelatin-type concoctions have been in use for centuries, Wikipedia says this about the era when Jell-O really took off:

The baby boom saw a significant increase in sales for Jell-O. Young mothers didn’t have the supporting community structures of earlier generations, so marketers were quick to promote easy-to-prepare prepackaged foods. By this time, creating a Jell-O dessert required simply boiling water, Jell-O and Tupperware molds.

(Ah yes, remember those molds? I don’t even have mine anymore which we received for wedding or shower gifts.)

My home congregation’s earliest cookbook, Fellowship Cooking, included 25 (!) different recipes using Jell-O. I would wager other church cookbooks of the era would include a similar number of such.

Interestingly, Mennonite Community Cookbook, which you might expect to be full of recipes using gelatin, is actually more focused on showcasing recipes the women of the mid-century remembered their mothers and grandmothers using, long before Jell-O came into vogue. I was intrigued by “Lovina’s Amish Kitchen” cook Lovina Eicher including a recipe recently for a very fancy 12-layer Jell-O dessert that must simply take hours to fuss over. Sometimes the simple life is anything but simple, whether we’re Mennonite, Amish, or Presbyterian.

Before this becomes a treatise on the history and development of Jell-O salads, my point is this:

This is the only Jell-O salad I ever make any more and some of the family do enjoy it, partly because we generally only have it once or twice a year, at Thanksgiving and Christmas.


My kids were home recently and we kind of had an early Thanksgiving supper (with some, but not all of the traditional fixings) so I included this salad. I like it for the pineapple, the nuts, and the cream cheese. Some recipes call for cottage cheese instead of cream cheese, but I prefer the richness of cream cheese, even though it is a bit trickier to mix up (needing to soften the cream cheese so it mixes into the half-jelled Jell-O).


But for normal every day meals or desserts, my family much prefers a simple fruit salad using no gelatin, and any concoction of fresh fruits (and sometimes canned) I have on hand: bananas, oranges, grapes, straw or blueberries, mandarin oranges, etc. That would be our fruit salad of choice. And can always be thrown together at the last minute!


Cream Cheese Salad – a variation of Emma Yoder’s recipe from North Goshen Mennonite’s Fellowship Cooking, which is technically the only thing that makes this a “Mennonite” recipe. 🙂

1 – 3-oz. package lime Jell-O
1 small package cream cheese
1 cup drained, crushed pineapple
1 – 8 oz. tub of whipped topping
¾ cup chopped pecans
1 small can mandarin oranges

Make Jell-O according to package directions, using 1 cup water and bringing it to a boil. Dissolve Jell-O powder in the hot water, stirring to make sure it all dissolves. Set aside. Set out cream cheese to soften.

Drain pineapple, reserve juice. Refrigerate pineapple until you add it to the salad later in the process. Put the reserved juice in measuring cup and add cold water until you have 1 cup cold liquid. Add to the Jell-O and hot water mixture.

Refrigerate Jell-O for ½ hour to 1 hour. When partially congealed, pour into mixing bowl. With mixer, combine softened cream cheese with Jell-O. Beat on slow, adding speed as it combines. Add whipped topping. Again, beat with mixer until combined. Stir in crushed pineapple, pecans and mandarin oranges. Pour into serving bowl, or 9 x 13 inch pan (if you want to serve in squares) or mold. Chill until set, several hours. Garnish if desired with reserved mandarin oranges or maraschino cherries. Emma’s directions add “Serve on lettuce leaf.” Oh yes, how could I forget, the lettuce leaf!


What dish or dishes are you most looking forward to serving or eating for the holidays? What dish says “holidays” to you and your family?

My kids never liked plain old red Jell-O with canned fruit cocktail. Did yours?


You’ll find more of my family’s favorite meals and recipes and traditions in Whatever Happened to Dinner.


  1. Elaine Buckwalter Ritter permalink

    When I was growing up (circa 50’s and 60’s) my mother made a holiday jello salad that she called “ribbon salad”. It had a red and green layer with a rich cream cheese/mayo layer in between. Very pretty, delicious (I love it because of the middle layer ) and oh, yes…served on a lettuce leaf 😉 We also had jello with fruit cocktail almost every Sunday at our meal along with butterscotch pudding. Great memories.

    • I do like that holiday ribbon salad with that middle layer, but I don’t think I’ve ever made it.
      P.S. I wanted to add a lettuce leaf bed for my cream cheese jello picture but I was fresh out of decent looking lettuce! I loved Mom’s butterscotch pudding, but never make that myself. My husband’s family was not big on puddings so I’ve left them behind. Thanks for chiming in!

  2. Oh, how familiar! Seeing the title of this post brought to mind a Knox gelatin salad Mother made with pineapples:
    I’m glad I have her hand-written recipe.

    I am amused and amazed that your congregation’s early cookbook included 25 different recipes with a Jello base. Another interesting topic, Melodie, with appetizing photos to match.

  3. Athanasia permalink

    We make a similar jello salad in our family. Lime jello, cottage cheese, diced celery, crushed pineapple, maraschino cherries and chopped walnuts. It shows up at holiday and special occasion meals from Thanksgiving through Easter or on request. It’s referred to as “that green jello with everything in it”. I can remember eating it as far back as I can remember.

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