Mid-century cooking tends to conjure up images of gelatin "salads", casseroles and banana abuse, but have you heard the good news about cooking with soft drink? It turns out that soft drink — particularly 7 Up — actually has a wide range of culinary uses beyond the drinkable, and we're going to explore three of the most popular recipes.
Photos by Claire Lower.
Like all good meals, we're going to start this one with a salad.
7 Up Salad
I'll never forget the first time I took my then-boyfriend-now-ex-husband to visit my family in Mississippi, a place where remnants of mid-century cooking still have a stronghold. We were at a buffet — after church, obviously — when the very confused man asked me "why there was a bunch of whipped cream next to the salad".
Turning out a cake, only to have it fall apart, is one of the most frustrating experiences one can have in the kitchen. But ugly cake is still cake, and there's no reason you shouldn't eat it.
"Oh," I replied, "that's a kind of salad." Thirty seconds of arguing about the definitions of "salad" and "dessert" later, I reminded my boyfriend that there were people behind him in line, and I really wanted to make it to the real dessert before they ran out of banana pudding.
The poor thing had never seen a congealed salad before, you see, and flat out refused to try it. I'm not the hugest fan of jelly, so I don't eat a ton of them, but I do enjoy my grandmother's 7 Up Salad, which has cream cheese (it reduces the jiggle) and crushed pineapple and pecans (two of my favourite things). I'm not sure where she originally got the recipe, but she has since self-published it in her iconic cookbook, Recipes from Grandmother Jewel.
There are many casseroles contained within.
To make it, you will need:
- 1 cup of boiling water
- 1 package of lime jelly
- 1 225g package of cream cheese
- 1 small can of crushed pineapple
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla
- A few drops of green food colouring
- 210mL of 7 Up
Dissolve the jelly in boiling water and plunk in a block of cream cheese. It will look like this:
Your reaction will be something like, "This can't be right," but don't worry, you're doing everything correctly. Mix the the cream cheese and gelatin juice until you have a nice, smooth bowl of glop. Add all the other ingredients except for the soft drink and stir. Carefully add the 7 Up and gently stir to incorporate. Decant it (gracefully) into some sort of retro-looking mould. (I tried to find the classic fish mould at an op shop, but it was not meant to be.)
Place the mould in the fridge and let everything chill overnight, until the mixture is fully congealed. Turn it out onto a plate and observe the inevitable cosmetic damage.
This makes the perfectionist housewife in me want to die.
Laugh nervously to yourself and mutter, "It's OK," over and over, while you try to hide your failure with cherries.
In terms of green salads, this is definitely quite congealed, but I do like the creamy consistency and citrusy flavour, which is punctuated with bits of juicy pineapple and crunchy pecans. Moving on.
7 Up Biscuits
Do you like biscuits that taste like they came from an airport fried chicken restaurant? Because I do, and that's what these greasy little mounds of glory taste like. You can find the recipe for 7 Up biscuits all over the web, but the ratios are pretty much always the same. To make them, you will need:
- 4 cups of baking mix
- 1 cup of sour cream
- 1 cup of 7 Up
- 1/2 cup of butter
Preheat the oven to 230C and place a casserole dish in there along with your butter, so it can melt while the oven heats. (Keep an eye on it though, and take it out once it's melted.) Combine your baking mix and the sour cream with a fork until you have a shaggy mess, then slowly pour in your soft drink. Stir until you have a cohesive — though very sticky — dough.
Turn the dough out on a surface that has been thoroughly coated in baking mix, then coat your hands with baking mix. Then strip down naked (optional) and coat your whole body with baking mix, because this stuff is beyond sticky. Knead the dough until it stops being so impossibly sticky, then pat it out to about 2.5cm thick.
Just your basic puddle of butter.
Using a biscuit cutter (or a wine glass or empty soup can), cut out some biscuits. Place the raw biscuits in the sea of melted butter, and bake them for 12-15 minutes, until they are nice and browned on top.
These biscuits are tasty. I mean, of course they are; they are literally cooked in a puddle of butter. They are also, however, quite heavy because — again — the whole "puddle of butter" situation. This means you don't have to perform the laborious task of buttering them, but it also means you may not be able to eat more than one. As I mentioned earlier, these taste like fast food biscuits, and I don't mean that as an insult.
7 Up Cake
This citrus-scented cake of deceit betrayed me not once, but twice. The first time I was kind of chill about it, as I was able to turn the failure into a tasty parfait and — more importantly — content.
The problem actually may not lie with the cake (or the recipe from All Recipes), but with my stupid Bundt pan, which seems to have given up on doing its job correctly. The second time I attempted to make this supposedly easy dessert, I greased the thing then lightly floured it, and yet.
Anyway. If you have a better Bundt pan, and wish to try your hand at this pop icon of a dessert, you will need:
- 3 cups white sugar
- 1 1/2 cups butter, softened
- 5 eggs
- 3 cups of plain flour, sifted
- 2 tablespoons of lemon extract
- 1 cup of 7 Up
Grease your pan very well and dust if with flour. Pray to whatever gods you believe in and cross yourself for good measure. Preheat your oven to 160C. Beat the sugar and butter together until it's nice and smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each one. Stir in the flour, one cup at a time, once again mixing well after each addition. Stir in the extract and then carefully stir in the soft drink, as it will fizz and splash. Pour the batter into your prepared, but not prepare enough, pan, pop it in the oven, and bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle (of the cake, not the pan) comes out clean.
Even if your cake doesn't release from the pan in a pleasing fashion, know that it's still a tasty one and, if I had baked it in a regular pan, I'm sure I would give the overall experience high marks. At the end of the day, it's still cake, and even ugly cake is good, especially if you coat it with a glaze made with 1 cup of sifted powdered sugar, 1/4 cup of milk, and 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla.
Overall I'd say this blast-from-the-past culinary trip was OK, but I don't know that any of these recipes will make it into my repertoire. Actually, that's a bold-faced lie. I've already eaten three of those biscuits, so I'll probably make more of those.
Welcome to Retro Week, where we'll be firing up the flux capacitor and bringing you 1950s know-how on everything from casserole-making to fallout-shelter-building to the joys of letting kids relax and play with trash.