Aspics can divide a room right down the middle of the luncheon table.
Tomato Aspic
Credit: Southern Living

Mention a tomato aspic around the office and you can get some strange looks. Some people don't know what it is, and some people know what it is and wish they didn't. Others, however, love tomato aspic, include it in their list of favorite summer salads, and have fond memories of enjoying this dish during family holidays. There is just something about congealed food, even a congealed fruit salad, which is very polarizing—you either love it or you hate it. And a congealed savory food, which was traditionally made with animal bone collagen—well, sometimes that idea is hard to swallow. There has got to be a reason why tomato aspic still makes an appearance at our favorite lunch counters, so we set out to find five reasons we love tomato aspic:

It's a Beautiful Color

There is no denying the fact that the glossy, smooth, ruby-red color of a tomato aspic is pretty and festive. At Christmas time, pull out your best silver platter and make a bed in the center using crisp, vibrant greens. Then unmold the aspic in the center of the greens. It really does make a colorful picture.

It's a Throwback Comfort Food

It may not register in popularity as high as fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, but practically every old cookbook you read claims that a tomato aspic is a popular choice, if not a required one, for ladies' luncheons and funerals. It can still be found on the menus at  drugstore lunch counters, alongside other classics such as chicken salad, deviled eggs, and banana pudding.

It Can Include Whatever You Want

Depending on your recipe, your tomato aspic may be very simple or quite complicated. In the 1970 inaugural edition of Our Best Recipes, Southern Living published a Tomato Aspic recipe with just four ingredients: unflavored gelatin, tomato juice, chili sauce, and grated onion. A later, and much longer, recipe listed 15 ingredients, including Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, horseradish, celery, stuffed olives, and either avocados or artichoke hearts. A recipe note suggested that if you are serving this to extra special company, go ahead and use both avocados AND artichoke hearts, and, to make it a main dish, add cook shrimp. Some people describe a tomato aspic as merely a congealed Bloody Mary. This makes sense, considering the brunch cocktail can come garnished with the same ingredients as are found in the aspic—celery, olives, shrimp, seasonings, and lots of tomato juice.

The Molds Are Cute

Many cooks have a pantry (or wall) full of copper and ceramic molds in various shapes: fish, lobster, stars, and hearts are the traditional favorites. Some molds are even as elaborate as the most intricately shaped Bundt pans. It takes skill to unmold an aspic, therefore, an adventurous cook might choose one of the more complex molds for her congealed dish, just so guests will be in awe of her culinary talents. Even at a funeral reception there can be competition among the cooks!

Reason #5

Let's see, another reason why we love tomato aspic. Umm…did we mention the pretty color?? Seriously, tomato aspics are really delicious. Give one a try!

Today tomato aspics, still a popular choice at luncheons, can be made in individual ramekins. Give one a try and see if you don't find a new favorite recipe.