I went to a spaghetti supper fundraiser the other day and there was a limited menu of a simple romaine lettuce salad, spaghetti in red sauce (meatballs optional), and garlic bread. The variety came in the dessert course, which featured many volunteer offerings, the highlight of which was when someone walked in holding a large festive bowl high over their head, and announced they had prepared a WATERGATE SALAD. A Watergate Salad, here as the president sulks in the White House, fraying under the strain of the investigation. A Watergate—salad? Dessert? What now?
I inspected it, and observed something that resembled Ambrosia, that thing made with marshmallows that everyone jokes about. This Watergate Salad was a direct variant.
Of course we had some questions, as everyone does, as compiled and confirmed by the Google algorithm.
Before asking the internet, I asked the dessert chef of the moment, “Why do they call it Watergate Salad,” and they said “I have no idea.”
The mixture of products now known as Watergate Salad was originally a tribute to progress and science, as manifested in the food technology of the KRAFT corporation.
According to the processed knowledge-product of Wikipedia, here’s what KRAFT had to say about it:
Kraft Corporate Affairs said: “We developed the recipe for Pistachio Pineapple Delight. It was in 1975, the same year that pistachio pudding mix came out.” Kraft, however, didn’t refer to it as Watergate Salad until consumers started requesting the recipe for it under the name. “According to Kraft Kitchens, when the recipe for Pistachio Pineapple Delight was sent out, an unnamed Chicago food editor renamed it Watergate Salad to promote interest in the recipe when she printed it in her column.” Neither the article nor editor has been tracked down, however.
A likely story, or a likely story? Nobody is willing to take the fall. We were somewhat surprised to see Helen Keller dragged into the argument:
In 1922 Helen Keller published a similar recipe, calling for canned diced pineapple, nuts, marshmallows, whipped cream and other ingredients. “I ate it first in California, so I call it Golden Gate Salad”. Similar “fruit salad” and “pineapple salad” recipes had been published in the 1910s, and “Golden Gate Salad” was served in some American hotels.
Emphasis on CITATION NEEDED! “Golden Gate,” here, is strictly a geographic reference, and there is no record of whether anyone described the hue of glop she was served.
The immediate Conspiracy Theory we are developing is some goons from KRAFT attempted to scrub all knowledge of the Golden salad’s provenance as they moved forward with their operation to install their newly researched-and-developed pistachio pudding powder mix in kitchen cabinets all over the United States.
Here are the highlights of the recipe from the folks at KRAFT, which technically and corporately is more accurately KRAFTHEINZ, but we’re pinning this all on KRAFT:
- Combine first 4 ingredients in large bowl.
- Stir in COOL WHIP.
- Refrigerate 1 hour.
While it’s somewhat jarring that we’re supposed to throw pecans on top of a thing that contains pistachio pudding, what’s great about the KRAFT recipe is they got no less than four of their branded properties in on the action, in a five-ingredient recipe. We look forward to the inevitable KRAFTHEINZ acquisition of a pineapple consortium.
Historically KRAFT won’t cop to responsibility for the Watergate name, and even in 2018 they really don’t even know how to peg this mess. On the recipe page they have it tagged for THANKSGIVING and ST. PATRICK’S DAY, yeah, sure, it’s green, who cares, hey while we’re at it, let’s tag it ALL SEASONS, who knows? They also have it tagged as BUDGET, EASY, and furthermore QUICK & EASY.
But back to the item on offer at the spaghetti supper. Of course I ate some, it had pudding in it! It was made with the ingredients in the above KRAFT documentation, but with the additional ingredients of chocolate pudding and maraschino cherries. The chocolate pudding tipped the pale synth-pistachio green toward olive drab as the mixture got scooped and further blended together.
The texture was disturbing, as the randomly alternating mouth-feel experiences of pudding, COOL WHIP, JELL-O, and marshmallows created a confused panic in some sort of self-preservation/DO NOT EAT section of the brain, but it was made out of all kinds of sweet stuff that is perfectly fine. Really the most revolting aspect is that it’s called “salad.”
Our Dessert Research Team tried to find references to Watergate Salad in the archive of the New York Times, for historical context, but could find only passages such as the following:
Senator Sam J. Ervin Jr., chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee, usually lunches in the Senate Dining Room at the Capitol. “The Senator says he has soup, salad and a glass of buttermilk,” explained his secretary, Pat Shore.
A search for some of the ingredients, though, brought up a Times article from December 28, 1913—11 months and 19 days after the birth, in Yorba Linda, California, of a baby named Richard Milhous Nixon—in which the Big Marshmallow message was being passed along to the readers:
WHAT EVERY WOMAN WANTS TO KNOW
Marshmallows Are a Valuable Emergency Asset for a Hostess, As They May Be Made the Basis for a Number of Dainty Desserts
PERHAPS your first thought in looking at a box of marshmallows would not be that it was a valuable emergency asset. But that ought to be your thought, if you are on the lookout for emergency dishes.
We see the word “parfait” in the text, and that’s the key to part of this mystery. This combo of ingredients, which would eventually evolve (under KRAFT laboratory conditions) into Watergate Salad, was originally contrived as a layered dessert item, not an agglomeration in a bowl that you dish out. Our working theory is enough people made this and either got tired of doing it in separate containers or had trouble transporting it, and so the recipe evolved into a dessert casserole.
Things could have been worse, if you consult the recipe directly afterward, in which the Times encouraged its lady readers to mix cut-up marshmallows and grapes with French dressing and cayenne and serve them on lettuce leaves. Happy holidays.