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Eat Like a Freshman: Imperial Jell-O Salad

Nothing shows imperial glory like a collection of random fruits suspended in gelatin.

Imperial Jell-O Salad


1 package lemon Jell-O

1 cup boiling water

1 cup pineapple juice

½ cup stuffed olives, sliced

½ cup crushed pineapple, drained

½ cup celery, cut fine

Procedure: Dissolve Jell-O in 1 cup boiling water. Add pineapple juice. When this begins to thicken, add other ingredients. Pour into mold or pan.


The UW Digitized Collections database gives us a chance to revisit great moments of UW history. It allows us to dive into the campus experience of generations of Badgers with just a few clicks. As thankful as we are to have such easy access to many invaluable images, recordings, and papers kept in the UWDC, there are some artifacts that should stay lost in the annals of history. 

The Liz Waters recipe for Imperial Jell-O Salad is one of those items. 

Before you accuse me of rushing to conclusions, I did take the time to make and taste said salad. I know better than most that someone with questionable taste and no respect for food submitted Imperial Jell-O Salad to the organizers of the 1965 Liz Waters cookbook. It tastes and feels exactly as you would expect a bite of pineapple, lemon Jell-O, olives, and celery to taste and feel. There is no unexpected, magical blend of salty, sweet, and savory. You only taste confusion.

Imperial Jell-O Salad simply does not make sense. From its lofty name to its odd contents, the recipe is nonsense. I understand that salad can describe a wide range of dishes in American cuisine. I’m personally just as happy to call a bowl of leafy greens and veggies a salad as I am a bowl of potatoes, eggs, and mayo. Salads need not be healthy, green, or even heterogeneous . But there should be something cohesive. And that something should not be lemon Jell-O physically binding an unnatural combination of ingredients together.

One might reasonably make a Jell-O fruit salad full of artificially flavored jigglers. The addition of celery is odd, but tolerable if you think of the vegetable as crunchy water (which is an appropriate thought). The real transgression in Imperial Jell-O comes with the stuffed olives. Olives could be stuffed with anything: goat cheese, pimentos, jalapeños. Doesn’t the chef care that each of these would interact differently with lemon Jell-O and pineapple? Cheese and jalapeño have a different impact on the flavor profile of the whole dish. Is it meant to be confusing no matter which olive stuffing you use?

Despite my liberal definition of salad, I find it difficult to include this Imperial Jell-O concoction under that category in my recipe box. Instead, I’ve filed it under “science experiment.” The mixture doesn’t appear to be meant for human consumption, unless your aim is to upset someone (or someone’s stomach). So, what did the chefs at Liz Waters have against the residents?

Did you live in Liz Waters in the 1960s? Do you think I’m unfairly maligning Imperial Jell-O Salad or similar gelatin-based dishes? Send us your favorite, or terribly feared, recipes from campus!

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