Every family has that quintessential dish that MUST be on the table whenever there’s a family gathering. Though there were many dishes that my Grandma Bette excelled at cooking, none was more cherished and anticipated in our family than her creamy Mandarin orange Jell-O salad, or “Mandarian Orange Salad” as she called it. Cool, creamy, sweet and tangy, what probably should have been sitting alongside the other sweet offerings at the dessert table was always found in her giant Waterford crystal bowl right next to the hot trays of rich, savory lasagna that my grandma had labored for 2 days to make. I am sure that is why to this very day, mandarin orange salad always tastes best to me when the first couple bites are mixed with just a hint of earthy homemade tomato sauce. I realize to most of my readers that might be an unappetizing thought, but if you’d grown up with the tradition of tediously piling a heaping spoonful of that amazing mandarin orange salad onto your already-full plate of salad, lasagna, hot rolls and whatever other vegetable side-dish was on the table, I’m sure you’d understand. Nobody, and I mean nobody, was going to wait until dessert to taste that orange salad.
I tried several times over the years to get my grandmother to spell out the recipe for me, but to no avail. Not that she was stingy with it, but she’d rather just have you watch her make it and learn that way (which I did as a child on numerous occasions – I just wish I’d paid attention to the quantities of ingredients she put in!) She rarely wrote her recipes down, she’d just read them in a book or magazine and then store them up in her amazing mind. I remember asking her when I was very young where she’d gotten the recipe from and she told me it was from a magazine she read back years before.
For a decade I searched online for that recipe, made just the way hers was. But I never could find it. However, with the help of my Dearest Cousin Liz, we’ve been able to cobble together from our collective memory the recipe for Grandma’s awesome mandarin orange salad (I’m pretty sure my cousin just paid way better attention than I did – she’s always been that way). Her mandarin orange salad isn’t curdled looking, and it doesn’t contain cottage cheese as many do, but it does have chopped walnuts, the perfect punctuation of crunch to its otherwise creamy-smooth consistency. It’s sweet but not overly, no doubt a credit to the addition of the tart orange sherbet and cream cheese. But enough talk about this delicious dish – let’s get to making it.
[Ingredients listed below]
Let cream cheese and Cool Whip come up to room temperature before starting.
Dissolve the orange Jell O in 3.5 cups of boiled water.
With a hand-mixer or stand mixer, whip cream cheese and Cool Whip together until fluffy.
When the Jell O is completely dissolved, add the orange sherbet and stir until that is dissolved completely.
Gently, and in several small additions at a time to avoid making a huge mess, pour the Jell O/sherbet mixture into the bowl with the cream cheese/Cool Whip mixture and use a mixer to thoroughly combine until creamy and smooth.
Drain the mandarin orange slices. Keep aside a few to decorate the top of your salad, but fold the remainder into your mixture. Depending on the consistency of the mixture (because honestly, it doesn’t always start out the same), I might wait until the mixture has chilled in the fridge a couple hours and set just a little before I mix in my orange slices so that they don’t all sink to the bottom.
Fold the chopped walnuts into the mixture. (Again, you might need to wait a little, but that’s not always the case.)
Place into a very large serving bowl and cover with cling wrap and refrigerate until set, several hours or overnight. After 2 to 3 hours, take your remaining orange slices and arrange decoratively on top of your mandarin orange salad, re cover with the cling wrap and put back into the refrigerator until you are ready to serve. Voila!
There’s nothing like this cool and creamy, tangy Mandarin orange Jell-O on the internet, so end your summer with a bang by bringing this dessert to your final hurrah. They’re going to love it!