I’m a Kid from the 70s—Vegan Raspberry Applesauce “Gelatin” Salad
I grew up in the 70s. I survived:
- Real, sharp, lawn darts
- Riding in the way back of a Ford Pinto without seat belts
- Running all around the neighborhood with other kids on our bicycles (without helmets) from sun-up to sun-down without adult supervision
- Shag carpet
- Black and White TV without a remote (we kids were the remote!)
- Corded rotary dial telephone without call-waiting
- The eruption of Mt. St. Helens (it was literally in our backyard!)
I loved Jell-o and Jell-o salads growing up. They were a staple in our house, especially for holiday meals. Gelatin salads had everything from pears, berries, celery, carrots, cheddar cheese, whipped cream, and cottage cheese in them, and they were all amazing!
But I had no idea what gelatin was, other than some magical powder that came in a box you mixed with boiling water to have it set-up into a wiggling, jiggling, translucent jelly. Gelatin is made by boiling animal hooves, cartilage, and skin to extract the sticky protein collagen. It was first used as glue, but in the 1700s people started using it to make desserts. Jell-o powder didn’t come about until 1895 when a cough-syrup manufacturer purchased a gelatin-powder patent from a industrial product inventor (he was interested in making glue powder) and turned it into the “just-add-water” dessert we are all familiar with. I’m not so sure I would have been such a fan of Jell-o as a kid if I’d known that it really was made out of. I only learned after I became vegan and was shocked that it was made from animals!
Losing gelatin was something I mourned, along with cheese. Jell-o was a staple in our refrigerator. Mom made it as snacks for after school in little single-serve Tupperware dishes and it was super fun as finger Jell-o. We had it when we were sick, even drinking what we called Jell-o Water, liquid gelatin solution before it set up, when we had the flu. I actually didn’t know what to eat when I got sick after first becoming vegan without being able to eat gelatin! And then there was the loss of my favorite Jell-o salad, Raspberry Applesauce Salad topped with sour cream and marshmallows. To make matters worse, I even learned that the marshmallows I loved contained gelatin and were no longer something I would eat.
So imagine my delight and utter joy when I learned about agar agar! Agar agar is a substance from red algae popular in Asia for making jellied dishes; they’ve been using it over the last couple centuries. You’ll often see jellied desserts with fruit called anmitsu in Asian restaurants and grocery stores made from agar agar. And yes, it is the gel in the bottom of a petri dish. You can find agar agar powder and flakes at Asian markets, health food stores, and online at Amazon. It firms up once dissolved and boiled in liquid; boiling is key in order for agar agar to activate and gel.
Raspberry Applesauce Salad was the first thing I tried when experimenting with agar agar…I missed it that much! There was something just magical about this salad in that it transformed miniature marshmallows into marshmallow fluff overnight in the refrigerator and made a tangy, sweet, fluffy top to raspberry-applesauce Jell-o!
Here’s how you make it, vegan!
Make the Raspberry Applesauce Gel
To start, you need to bring the gel ingredients to a simmer, without the agar agar powder. Once it comes to temperature, sprinkle the agar agar powder over the top and quickly whisk into the liquid so it doesn’t get all clumped up.
Bring this to a boil, stirring, and let simmer for two full minutes. This boil is extremely important as, unlike gelatin, agar agar must boil in order to activate its gelling properties. If you are using agar agar flakes, you’ll need to simmer a bit longer in order to fully dissolve the flakes. Simmer and stir until you no longer see agar agar flakes.
Pour into a 9×9 baking dish, or similar size. The gel mixture must be less than 2 inches thick in order to set up.
Put into your refrigerator an hour or so until firm.
Make Vegan Marshmallow Fluff (and Vegan Sour Cream)
While the raspberry applesauce gel is chilling, make the vegan marshmallow fluff and sour cream (unless you’re using commercially-made vegan sour cream).
When I first experimented with veganizing this recipe I tried using vegan miniature marshmallows from the store, however, they didn’t get soft and fluffy sitting in the sour cream overnight like original gelatin-based marshmallows did. I don’t know if it was the brand I used or if they just don’t behave the same. And, they only came in a plastic bag, so making my own fluff solves the issue of texture and makes it zero waste. Plus, making the fluff uses aquafaba, the liquid from a can of white beans that is usually thrown out, so making your own helps with that too!
I use a Marshmallow Fluff recipe by Sam Turnbull of It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken. It works beautifully for this dish.
For the sour cream, I use the cashew-based Vegan Sour Cream recipe from Rouxbe Culinary School. But you can certainly use commercial vegan sour cream if you want.
Chill the marshmallow fluff and vegan sour cream until ready to assemble.
Assemble and Chill
Now comes the fun part…well, actually the fun part is eating it…but here’s the icing on the salad part!
Spread a nice thick layer of vegan sour cream over the firm gel. I used a cup or so.
Then pile on the vegan marshmallow fluff. The original recipe had you place miniature marshmallows side-by-side on end (a lot of tedious work!), so you want a layer similar to the height of miniature marshmallows. Hey, that’s a fourth reason to use vegan marshmallow fluff in this recipe over commercial vegan miniature marshmallows, it’s a big time saver!
I use almost all of the marshmallow fluff. Store the rest in the refrigerator several days, although it starts to separate after overnight (you can whisk back together). It’s great for fluffer-nutter sandwiches, s’mores (you can toast it with a torch), on a steamy cup of hot cocoa (yes!!), on a spoon, or you can add an extra dollop to the top when you serve this salad.
Serve right away or cover and chill a few hours until ready to serve, if you’re using marshmallow fluff. If using miniature marshmallows, cover and chill overnight before serving.
Run a knife along the sides of the dish to loosen. Then cut the gel salad into 8 equal pieces. Traditionally, we served this on a piece of butter lettuce, but it’s not necessary. Garnish each piece with an extra dollop of marshmallow fluff and a raspberry, if you’d like.
It’s so great to bring cruelty-free foods back from my childhood memories! Holidays feel like holidays again with this salad at the family dining table. While agar agar has been around as long as gelatin, it’s really getting noticed now in the West, giving plant-based vegan eaters an option to enjoy new twists on traditional foods.
What was your favorite gelatin salad growing up? Let’s veganize it!
Happy Holidays to you and yours from this 70s kid!
Raspberry Applesauce Vegan "Gelatin" Salad
Raspberry Applesauce Gel
Vegan Sour Cream
Make Raspberry Applesauce Gel
- In a large saucepan, bring the water, applesauce, raspberries, and maple syrup to a simmer.
- Sprinkle the agar agar powder or flakes over the top and mix well with a whisk so it doesn't clump. Simmer, stirring, for 2 minutes. The berries will separate and break apart. Note, if you use agar agar powder, you'll have to simmer a bit longer to dissolve all the flakes.
- Pour the mixture into a 9x9 or similar pan. You want the gel to be less than 2-inches deep, or it may not firm up.
- Chill a couple hours in the refrigerator.
Assemble the Salad
- Spread a nice thick layer of vegan sour cream on top of the firmed up gel.
- Top with about ½-inch of vegan marshmallow fluff or vegan mini marshmallows. See note if using mini marshmallows.
- If using mashmallow fluff, serve right away or store, covered, in the refrigerator for several hours. The marshmallow fluff will break down if left overnight.
- If using mini marshmallows, cover and chill overnight.
- Run a knife around the edges of the dish to loosen. Cut into 8 equal squares.
- Serve on a piece of butter lettuce, if desired. You may also add another dollop of Marshmallow Fluff and a raspberry to garnish.
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Cindy wants you to be Trimazing—three times better than amazing! After improving her health and fitness through plant-based nutrition, losing 60 pounds and becoming an adult-onset athlete, she retired from her 20-year firefighting career to help people just like you. She works with people and organizations so they can reach their health and wellness goals.
Cindy Thompson is a certified Health Coach, Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, and Firefighter Peer Fitness Trainer. She is a Food for Life Instructor with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Rouxbe Plant-Based Professional, and Harvard Medical School Culinary Coach, teaching people how to prepare delicious, satisfying, and health-promoting meals.
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