Cranberry Jell-O Salad Is the Crown Jewel of My Family’s Thanksgiving

published Nov 21, 2021
Kitchn Love Letters
Cranberry Jell-O Salad

Rather than crushed pineapple and strawberry Jell-O used in other Jell-O salads, this recipe offers a reimagined take with chopped celery and cherry Jell-O.

Serves12

Makes5 cups

Prep20 minutes

Cook6 minutes

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Credit: Justin Burke

Celebrating the holidays as a co-parenting family means my son rotates his holidays yearly between his two homes. He has his own traditions at each home, but his dad and I strive to establish consistency and shared traditions to show him that his family is rooted in love, and that we are bonded even if we’re not at the same place at the same time during the holidays. For Thanksgiving, we show this link between families with a sweet and savory cranberry Jell-O salad — popularly known as cranberry mousse. 

The “salad” recipe comes from my ex-husband’s grandmother and was shared to me by his mother. Over the 15 years I spent with my ex-husband’s family, the fluffy cranberry Jell-O salad was served every Thanksgiving in the same crystal bowl. It was the only dish everyone (kids and adults alike) made sure was made; everything else on the table came second. Rather than crushed pineapple and strawberry Jell-O used in other versions, their recipe calls for chopped celery and cherry Jell-O. The rest is the same: sour cream, whole berry cranberry sauce, and chopped walnuts. 

The slightly sweet and tart side dish balances a heavy Thanksgiving meal, complementing the herbaceous and rich flavors and pulling everything together. Don’t let the celery sway you from trying this dish — the texture is needed and the slight earthy bitterness cuts through the tart and creamy salad. It’s the crown jewel to my family’s Thanksgiving, binding us together, giving our son a constant tradition year after year and making our Thanksgiving dinners a little bit sweeter. 

Credit: Justin Burke

How to Make Cranberry Jell-O Salad

I’ve adapted the recipe a bit, subbing sour cream for plain Greek yogurt, toasting the walnuts, and serving in individual pudding bowls to allow more real estate on everyone’s plates. But, even with my changes, this dish is still a beloved tradition. 

You’ll start by dissolving cherry Jell-O with boiling water in a medium bowl, then chill in the refrigerator until slightly thickened but not set. Meanwhile, finely chop the celery and toast the walnuts. Once the gelatin has thickened, fold in the whole-berry cranberry sauce, celery, walnuts, and Greek yogurt until evenly combined. Pour into individual pudding glasses or a glass serving bowl and chill the night before Thanksgiving to ensure it’s properly set. Serve with Thanksgiving dinner as a side dish — and be prepared to make it every year moving forward.

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Cranberry Jell-O Salad

Rather than crushed pineapple and strawberry Jell-O used in other Jell-O salads, this recipe offers a reimagined take with chopped celery and cherry Jell-O.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 6 minutes

Makes 5 cups

Serves 12

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2 (3-ounce) boxes

    cherry Jell-O (or 1 (6-ounce) box)

  • 1 cup

    boiling water

  • 1/3 cup

    chopped walnuts

  • 2

    medium celery stalks

  • 1 (14-ounce) can

    whole berry cranberry sauce

  • 2 cups

    plain whole-milk Greek yogurt or sour cream

Instructions

  1. Place 2 (3-ounce) packages cherry Jell-O in a large heatproof bowl. Add 1 cup boiling water and whisk until the gelatin is dissolved. Refrigerate until thickened slightly but not yet set, 8 to 12 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, place 1/3 cup chopped walnuts in a small frying pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until lightly toasted, about 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the walnuts to a plate. Let the walnuts cool to room temperature. Finely chop 2 medium celery stalks (1 cup).

  3. When the gelatin is ready, add the walnuts, celery, 1 (14-ounce) can whole berry cranberry sauce, and 2 cups Greek yogurt or sour cream, and fold or whisk until evenly combined (it should be chunky with no visible white streaks). Pour into individual pudding glasses or a glass serving bowl. Cover the bowl(s) with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the salad is set, at least 25 minutes for individual servings or 1 hour 15 minutes for the large bowl, or preferably overnight.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The salad can be made up to 1 day in advance and refrigerated.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.