Today, the word “salad” means something fresh—a tangle of kale with cubes of avocado and toasted bread, or a platter of sliced tomatoes strewn with torn herbs, or a bowl of juicy summer berries and sliced peaches. In general, if you’re eating a salad, you’re at least attempting to be healthy. (Never mind the bacon and ranch dressing and cubes of Cheddar in there, too…)
Just a few decades ago, this was not always the case. Salads were creamy, colorful, super sweet, and eaten with a spoon, not a fork. These chilled salads, made with ingredients such as mini marshmallows, canned fruit, gelatin, whipping cream, cottage cheese, and even soda, could stand in for dessert. Especially the fluff salad.
Watch: How to Make Lime Gelatin & Cottage Cheese Salad
For the uninitiated, a fluff salad is just what it sounds like: A cloud-like mix (some might call it a mess) of fruit and creamy ingredients. My great-grandmother made hers with canned fruit cocktail, mayonnaise, shredded coconut, and pastel mini marshmallows. The longer it sat, the less you could tell the individual components apart. As a child, I ate bowl after bowl of the stuff.
Now that I’m an adult, I’m eating kale. Yes, it’s good for me, but it is not the color of a melted rainbow. It does not jiggle. It does not spark joy.
In a world of acai bowls and green smoothies and heirloom tomatoes, fluff salads are decidedly uncool. (Were they ever even cool to begin with?) You won’t find them on restaurant menus or even at potluck suppers. But if you place one on the table, something interesting happens. Eyebrows raise. Children spontaneously bounce in place. People will come in for a closer look, maybe even poke it with a finger.
Some (the 10-and-under crowd) will eat it gleefully and with abandon. Others will sample it strictly out of curiosity or politeness. And others will taste it and flash back to a time when a salad served no purpose other than being fun.