Let’s Talk About Circus Peanut Jello Salad, One of the Weirdest Retro Recipes Out There
Congealed salads—the wiggly, jiggly, technicolor gelatin molds of yesteryear—are a Southern staple that'll never stop showing up unannounced. Children run and scream at the sight of the lime-green Bundts, while the adults giggle and shake their heads, before sneaking a scoop or two onto their plate, hidden behind the leafy spinach salad that they certainly will not be eating. It’s only there for show and to disguise the pineapple-studded gelatinous cube.
Of all the strawberry pretzel, tropical stained glass, Christmas cranberry, and tomato aspic gelatin salads we Southerners are used to having crash every family holiday celebration, there is one retro congealed salad that eludes even the most experienced of Jell-O mold eaters. For most, it might appear as only a distant memory, a flash of bright orange in a casserole dish, topped with a confusing peanut-shaped candy, no less. After all this time, who else is still hopelessly befuddled by Circus Peanut Jello Salad?
This classic congealed salad recipe is made with the peanut-shaped, fluorescent orange marshmallow candies known as Circus Peanuts, which were made popular in the 19th century as penny candy. The reason why this particular jello salad confuses us more than any other mold—okay, maybe except jellied chicken salad—comes down to one thing: Circus Peanuts make absolutely no sense at all. Do they taste like peanuts? Absolutely not. Why are they banana-flavored? No clue. Is the obscenely neon orange color necessary? Heck no. But do we still succumb to the sentiment of this retro congealed salad made with canned pineapple and Cool Whip? Of course, you Negative Nancy.
Anyone that remembers this vintage jello salad recipe does so with a smile, because what it lacks in logic, it makes up for in heaps of fruity, fluffy charm. The recipe itself is easy and worth a try, if only to intrigue the little ones and delight the nostalgic folks. The simple ratio below is featured in countless community cookbooks, on family recipe cards, and in blogs throughout the South—most likely due to a recipe once found on the back of a Jell-O box. To start, you’ll need to snag a big bag of Circus Peanuts, which is easier said than done. (Luckily, we found them on Amazon here.)
How To Make Circus Peanut Jello Salad:
Step 1: In a microwave-safe bowl, combine 32 roughly chopped Circus Peanuts and 1/4 cup of hot water. Microwave for one minute and stir until melted and smooth. (Microwave more if needed.)
Step 2: Dissolve one six-ounce packet of orange gelatin into 3/4 cup of boiling water and then pour into melted candy mixture, stirring until smooth.
Step 3: In a separate bowl, combine a 16-ounce can of crushed pineapple and container of whipped topping (such as Cool Whip). Fold until evenly distributed.
Step 4: Fold the whipped pineapple mixture into the melted candy mixture. Pour into a greased 13x9 baking dish and chill until firm. Top with 12 extra Circus Peanuts, one for each square if cut.
Just like that, a retro gelatin masterpiece in all of its jiggly glory. Serve to anyone who isn’t scared off by the bright orange color and weird spongy candies.
Fun fact: Did you know that Lucky Charms cereal was inspired by Circus Peanuts? A General Mills employee chopped the spongy marshmallow candies into tiny bits, sprinkled them over his morning Cheerios, thought to himself what a funky breakfast treat, and the rest is history.