Pineapple Salad Mush, I Mean Mousse

Pineapples find their heyday in jazz-age America...and the food industry finds a way to ruin them.

Today’s recipe comes from “Ninety-Nine Tempting Pineapple Treats,” published in 1924 by the Association of Hawaiian Pineapple Canners. But first, a brief primer on the history of pineapple (it’s more hoity-toity than you might expect).

Here’s my favorite pineapple factoid: in the 17th and 18th centuries, there existed a pineapple rental market. Men and women would actually put down money for the privilege to bring a pineapple to a party and parade it around in front of everyone, before returning it to the lender at the end of the evening. Pineapples were the era’s most fashionable party accessory.

And now here’s some context, via the Mental Floss article “The Super Luxe History of Pineapples”

Imported from the Caribbean islands, pineapples that arrived in America were very expensive—one pineapple could cost as much as $8000 (in today’s dollars). This high cost was due to the perishability, novelty, exoticism, and scarcity of the fruit. Affluent colonists would throw dinner parties and display a pineapple as the centerpiece, a symbol of their wealth, hospitality, and status, instantly recognizable by a party’s guests. Pineapples, however, were mainly used for decoration at this time, and only eaten once they started going rotten.

Delicious.

The Royal Gardener presents a pineapple to King Charles II, in this painting commissioned by the King himself (c. 1675-80, via the Royal Collection Trust)

The invention of canning in the 19th century meant that pineapples could be safely shipped to America without rotting in transit—which had the potential to drive down the price and make pineapple available to the plebeians masses, if it wasn’t for the high tariffs that the United States was currently imposing on all imported fruit. Any company attempting to sell imported canned pineapple found it impossible to make a profit, and ultimately went bankrupt.

Flash forward to the turn of the 20th century. Two key developments have happened: first, the annexation of Hawaii in 1898 after the Spanish American War, and second, a man named James Dole arrived in Hawaii one year later with the intent to open a pineapple canning company. The local press declared it “a foolhardy venture”—probably because Dole was a 22-year-old man from Massachusetts who knew nothing about canning fruit.

James Dole with Shirley Temple at Dole’s plantation offices, via Jamaica Plain Historical Society

They were right, at first. Despite operating at a loss for the first few years, Dole pressed on, investing in new machinery that could peel, core, and chop 100 pineapples a minute. He doubled down with a national advertising campaign, joining forces with other local Hawaiian growers to make mainland consumers aware of their products.

From Smithsonian Magazine:

Dole was certainly not the first to introduce pineapple to the mainland American market. Rather, his business savvy and the economic conditions of the times allowed him to champion the fruit. Pineapple was cultivated in Florida, but recurring frosts destroyed the crops and what survived was of sub-par quality. Baltimore had a canning industry, but its fresh fruits were imported from the Bahamas, which heightened production costs due to importation taxes. With the combination of ideal growing conditions, the consolidation of cultivation and production and advertising that asserted the superiority of Hawaiian pineapple over all competitors, Hawaii was poised to dominate the canned pineapple trade. And it did. By the 1920s, it developed into a culinary fad, most notably in the form of upside down cake. (Source)

And by 1923, Dole became the world’s largest pineapple canner. Shablam!

Today’s Recipe

All of this brings us to today’s recipe, from a pamphlet titled “Ninety-Nine Tempting Pineapple Treats,” produced in 1924 by the Association of Hawaiian Pineapple Canners.

Turns out that pineapple’s “luxury” association was hard to shake, and consumers needed to be coaxed to think of it as an “everyday” fruit—and purchase it accordingly. This pamphlet was the pineapple industry’s solution. It was distributed to consumers via direct mail, and advertised in women’s magazines like The Delineator (see one of those ads here).

Ninety-Nine Tempting Pineapple Treats

Ninety-Nine Tempting Pineapple Treats

The pamphlet contains 32 pages of recipes, such as Pineapple Tapioca, Frozen Pineapple Custard, Pineapple Dumplings, Pineapple Omelet, and Prize Pineapple Pie (awarded first prize at the 1921 Cleveland Food Show). There’s also a chapter devoted to “Punches and Drinks,” but given that this was the Prohibition era, none of the recipes actually contain alcohol—mocktails only. I wonder if there was an implied wink-wink-nudge-nudge here.

Ninety-Nine Tempting Pineapple Treats, 1924

Ninety-Nine Tempting Pineapple Treats, 1924

(Browse the entire booklet in the gallery here.)

Most of the recipes sounded pretty tasty—after all, what’s not to like about pineapple desserts?—but since retro salads are my fave, naturally I found myself browsing the “Salads” chapter. Recipes in this section included:

  • Pineapple and Cucumber Salad: grated pineapple mixed with diced cucumber, “moistened well” with mayonnaise and garnished with pimiento
  • Pineapple Waldorf Salad: apples, pineapple, celery, and walnut pieces coated with thick mayonnaise
  • and Pineapple and Date Salad: grated pineapple mixed with chopped dates and served with French dressing

Oh, yes. This was going to be good.

Today’s recipe, the Pineapple Salad Mousse, sounded like it could go either way:

Pineapple Salad Mousse

Soften 1 teaspoon gelatin in 1 tablespoon water and dissolve over boiling water. Thoroughly drain 1 cup Crushed or Grated Hawaiian Pineapple and add ½ cup diced oranges, 1 cup very thick mayonnaise, 2 cups cream, whipped, and the dissolved gelatin. When well mixed pour into a mold, cover tightly and pack in equal parts of ice and salt 4 hours. Serve on lettuce with additional mayonnaise if desired. This may be used for a combination salad and dessert course.

Combination course, huh? Served in a mold? Curiosity piqued, sign me up.

My friends Joe and Kat were my taste testers.

All right, first of all—I must’ve done something wrong, because the Association of Hawaiian Pineapple Canners couldn’t possibly have intended for me to end up with this pale, deflated atrocity. It wouldn’t even unmold right. After a solid five minutes of my attempts to loosen it from the mold, the salad finally released with a gooey, lopsided splat onto its waiting bed of lettuce.

This wasn’t quite the tableau I was hoping for. Joe, I think, said it best:

“It looks like a pile of intestines in the middle of a fancy dinner.”

Taste-wise, it was even worse. I had hoped for something airy and creamy, slightly sweetened by the fruit, and perhaps with only a hint of tang from the mayonnaise. Like a tropical, molded whipped cream. This was supposed to do double duty as a dessert course, right?

Pile o’ mush

Wrong! Instead, the mayonnaise hijacked the entire dish. The fruit, the sole sweetener of this dish, tasted like mayonnaise. The whipped cream tasted like mayonnaise. What should have been light and airy was thick and viscous. Imagine dipping a spoon into a jar of jiggly Hellman’s.

As a reminder, the recipe recommends serving this dish with additional mayonnaise. ADDITIONAL MAYONNAISE.

Kat stole my prop champagne to wash out the taste…which was fair.

This one was a total dud. None of us could manage more than a single bite; I can’t imagine sitting down at a dinner party and tucking into an entire slice of this. It’s possible that the mayonnaise of the ’20s may have been a lighter, more delicate product than the stuff we used today, but then again, how would I know? Any centenarians want to weigh in here?

So how did this recipe come to be?

In the modern era, we generally think of salads as veggies on a bed of lettuce, with a few exceptions (pasta salad, fruit salad). But traditionally, the term “salad” referred to any combination of items thrown together, much like the word “casserole” refers to anything thrown in a dish and baked. Salads that were bound together by some kind of agent (whipped cream, mayonnaise, and Jello were all commonly used) and then stiffened with gelatin were all the rage in the twentieth century. They were perceived as modern and elegant, and the unmolded salads usually looked impressive on the table.

This dish brought together many of these elements—a molded salad using whipped cream and mayonnaise, using a coveted ingredient that was newly available to the masses. In this way, the Pineapple Salad Mousse might’ve very well been considered a trendy dish for its day.

All that being said—if you’re going to prepare a recipe from this booklet, you might be better off with the Prize Pineapple Pie.

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