Under the Sea Salad

A name for what’s really more of a class of recipes than a single recipe.

From 1991’s “Jell-o Brand Fun and Fabulous Recipes.”

Maybe that’s a strange way to put it, but it’s a strange salad. Broadly speaking, under-the-sea salad is a gelatin mold made with lime (or lemon and lime, or lemon-lime) gelatin, pears, and with two layers–an opaque bottom and a translucent top.

But there’s a lot of variation within that theme–and even outside of that theme, given that we’ve got a version on this card that calls for pineapple instead of pears.

I guess we should start at the beginning. From the April 13, 1931 edition of the Decatur (Illinois) Evening Herald:

Women See New Salad Concocted by Expert


New recipes for salads, desserts, and other appetizing dishes were demonstrated by Mrs. Cora Kreasan, food specialist, at the afternoon session of an all day meeting of Home bureau units in the Y.W.C.A. here Monday. Decatur, Pines, Sharon and Blue Mount units participated in the meeting, which opened at 10:30 with a business session. Miss Mary Omen, home adviser, led the lesson discussion. There was a potluck luncheon followed by a recreation hour and the demonstration by Mrs. Kreasan.

Among the dishes demonstrated were a new lime gelatin concoction called “under-the-sea” salad, daffodil sponge cake, and rice and fish loaf. This was the first of a series of demonstrations to be given by Mrs. Kreasan at different points in the county. Equipment for the series is being furnished by the Giti-Davis company of Decatur.

How does one become a salad expert? Is it like medical school, where you have to have an undergraduate degree in pre-salad or salad technology, or is it more like law school, where your undergrad degree can be in hors d’oeuvres or political science or scotch eggs and you can just get a postgrad degree in the salad arts?

The strange thing is that there are dozens of variations of this salad right from the moment of its creation, so I can’t tell you which version was being demonstrated (although I’ll make an educated guess shortly). Consider this one from the March 20, 1931 edition of the San Antonio Light:

Under-the-Sea Salad

1 package of lime Jell-o
1/3 cup of lemon juice
2 cups of finely shredded cabbage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup pears (cut in cubes)
2 cups of liquid

Measure pear juice; add lemon juice. Add enough water to make two cups. Heat one cup of this liquid. Put in Jell-o and stir until melted. Add the remainder of juice. Pour 1/3 of clear Jell-o mixture into a pan and set aside to stiffen. When the remaining 2/3 of Jell-o is of a syrupy consistency, began beating with rotary egg beater until the mixture is light. Fold into this the shredded cabbage mixed with the salt and pears. Spread the whipped mixture over the clear Jell-o that has already hardened. Let set until thoroughly chilled. Dip pan in hot water; turn on platter. Cut in desired shapes and serve on shredded lettuce.

A cabbage-free version with ginger and cream cheese appeared in the June 10, 1932 edition of the Nevada State Journal:

Under-the-Sea Salad

1 package lime gelatin, 1-1/2 cups boiling water, 1/2 cup canner pear juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon vinegar, 2 packages cream cheese, 1/8 teaspoon ginger, 2 cups diced, canned pears.

Dissolve the gelatin in the boiling water; add pear juice and vinegar. Pour one-half of this mixture in a loaf pan and chill until firm. Chill the remaining mixture until syrupy, then place it in a bowl with cracked ice and whip with a rotary beater until fluffy and thick like whipped cream. Cream the cheese with ginger and next fold in the pears and pour the mixture into the loaf pan on top of the plain layer of gelatin. Chill thoroughly, unmold, garnish and serve in slices. Serves 10.


Well, maybe some of the answers are with Mrs. Cora Kreasen, since she was the one demonstrating this salad early on. So who was Cora Kreasen? From the April 5, 1931 edition of the Decatur (Illinois) Daily Review:

Training School

Miss Mary McKee, state junior leader, will conduct a training school for girls’ 4-H club leaders Friday at 10 a.m.

The week will close with a 4-H club rally for boys and girls Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. at the Decatur high school.

Many of the units scheduled to meet next week will hold joint meetings the week of Apr. 13 instead, when Mrs. Cora Kreasen of the General Foods corporation, Chicago, will be present.

So Mrs. Kreason worked for General Foods. Fair enough. So what’s the General Food Corporation’s 1931 recipe look like? Here’s the version from their 1931 book The Greater Jell-o Recipe Book:

Under-the-Sea Salad

1 package Lime Jell-O
1-1/2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup juice from canned pears
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vinegar
2 packages (6 ounces) cream cheese
1/8 teaspoon ginger
2 cup canned pears, diced

Dissolve Jell-o in boiling water. Add pear juice, salt, and vinegar. Pour 1/2 inch layer into loaf pan. Chill until firm. Chill remaining Jell-o mixture until cold and syrupy. Place in bowl of cracked ice or ice water, and whip with rotary egg beater until fluffy and thick like whipped cream. Cream cheese with ginger. Fold in whipped Jell-o mixture gradually. Then fold in pears. Pour over firm first layer Jell-o. Chill until firm. Unmold. Serve 10.

Note added Nov. 21: Kitchen Historic actually made an iteration of this recipe, if you want to see a version up close and personal!

I guess there’s one other possible origin, but it’s unlikely…

From the box of F.J. from Sun City, Arizona. Some cards suggest a family history in Missouri and Kansas.

Under the Sea Salad

1 pkg. lime Jell-o
1 pkg. lemon Jell-o
2 medium cans Royal Anne Cherries
1 large can crushed pineapple
1/2 pkg. small marshmallows or a whole package (your preference)
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Use juice from pineapple and cherries for liquid in Jell-o and add extra water needed. Let Jell-o set until it is a little firm but not too firm. Keep out a half cup when it is slightly firm. Add all above ingredients and fold in.

I use a 9×13 Pyrex dish for this salad.

For Topping: Whip one container of cream and add 1/2 cup of Jell-o and spread on top. Add the topping when Jell-o is firm.

If you are in a hurry heat two cups of juice in microwave, add remaining juice and crushed ice to make two cups liquid, then add fruit and put marshmallows on top. Let set and cover with topping. I use 1-1/2 to 2 cups Cool Whip rather than Whipping Cream.

Serves 12-16
Recipe from the kitchen of Ferna Mae Jones


  1. Heather Ripley

    Hi! I am so going to make this recipe – I have a copy of a booklet, printed in 1930 with the recipe. It’s from Jell-O General Foods. So I am guessing this is actually where is was first introduced to the general public. I would be happy to share a photo if there is an email available?

    By the way, I love your website. You serve up such cool information, with a little touch of snark, and thanks for all the research.

  2. Mary Schmidt

    I’m 70 years old and I remember my mom making this jello salad for Thanksgiving every year. The way she made it was to make the cream cheese jello layer first, let it set, then place the pear halves flat on top of the jello. Then she would gently pour the rest of the green jello over the cream cheese part and refrigerate. This made it look fancier then the cut up pieces of pears. it was served in a clear glass 8″ x 8″ pyrex pan. Though lime jello isn’t my favorite flaver, I did like this recipe a lot.

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