In the 1900s, fruit "salads" became all the rage. Whether it was Ambrosia salad, with a base of whipped cream, yogurt, or even sour cream, or Frog's Eye Salad, a pasta and Cool Whip combo that became popular in the 1960s after it was featured on Creamette boxes. And then there was Watergate salad, which stood out in part because of its bright green color. "It goes all the way back to the turn of the century when you had a remarkable thing happen: instant gelatin," Susan Benjamin, a sugar and sweets historian and founder of True Treats Historic Candy told WAMU.
Like other fruit dishes that were made with marshmallows and whipped cream, the Watergate salad was known by different names that involved the word "fluff" before the 1970s, like Green Fluff or Pistachio Fluff. Consisting of pistachio pudding, Cool Whip, nuts, and pineapple, the dish was probably never actually served at the Watergate Hotel. It is rumored to have been given its new name because of its similarity to Watergate cake, which was also bright green and made with pistachio pudding and whipped cream. The Hagerstown Morning Herald published the recipe in 1974, and the author, Christine Hatcher, admitted she'd received the recipe from "a friend of a friend ... " and joked "I don't know why it's called 'Watergate cake' unless it's because of all the nuts that are in it!"
It Overtook The Cake In Popularity
Carole Scheldrup wrote to the Lancaster, Pennsylvania Sunday News "Recipe Exchange" column in 1975, and revealed that she had first discovered the recipe for Watergate cake in 1972 " ... about three months after the Watergate affair began." Scheldrup also had a theory as to why the name Watergate stuck, which was that Royal Pistachio Pudding also just happened to come out in June 1972, "Same time as Watergate!" Scheldrup said.
Whatever the origin is, the Watergate salad overtook the cake in popularity, and by the mid-1980s JELL-O got involved. For whatever reason they wouldn't call it Watergate salad, but the recipe for Pistachio Pineapple Delight, printed on its Pistachio Pudding boxes, was unmistakably a version of Watergate salad. By 1993 JELL-O finally embraced the name, changing the name officially to Watergate salad and adding the marshmallows that have been part of the recipe ever since.
So what happened to Watergate salad? Martha Fessenden wrote into WAMU's "What's With Washington" show to ask that very question. "I've lived here 30 years and I remember when I first moved here you could find Watergate salad offered in many different places," she said. "But now it's very hard to find." The reason, according to Benjamin, is simply that tastes and what people want to eat have changed. "We're always checking ourselves for too much sugar, too much of this, too much of that, instead of just immersing ourselves into what we really love."
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