What Is Watergate Salad and Why Is It Called That?
There aren’t many popular foods for group events named after government scandals. After all, politics already upset enough appetites at the holiday dinner table. One politics-themed concoction, however, continues to shine at potluck events: the Watergate Salad, also known as Green Fluff, Green Goop, or Pistachio-Pineapple Delight.
Watergate Salad is a rather strange dish; it’s a relic of the mid-1970s, when instant gelatin was still a new invention. The culinary world whipped up “salads” containing exactly zero lettuce, Kraft began selling a pistachio-flavored Jell-O for the first time, and the nation was experiencing its very first presidential resignation. From this came an easily-thrown together side dish, one made by mixing a packet of pistachio Jell-O, one cup of drained crushed pineapple, one cup of miniature marshmallows, and, optionally, one half-cup of walnuts. After that, a cup of whipped topping is stirred in, and the resulting dish chilled. The end product is a sweet, fluffy, marshmallow-filled dessert that melts in your mouth and resembles some kind of strange, blended parfait.
But how much did the Watergate scandal actually have to do with the unusual moniker for the strange, sweet dessert? Was the name just a coincidence?
Unfortunately, unlike Deep Throat’s identity, the source behind this unusual recipe name remains shrouded in mystery. Kraft claims the dish is based off a recipe it purportedly invented: Pineapple Pistachio Delight. But some amateur food historians have dated versions of that recipe back to Royal Instant’s Pistachio Pudding, which was on the market 15 years before Kraft released its version. NPR, in its examination of the dish’s history, pins the origin of the name on a cake that was also called a “Watergate” dessert. That cake — which included pistachio Jell-O in the batter, and sometimes in the icing — ostensibly got that moniker because of all the nuts in both the recipe and in the DC political and residential complex.
Other explanations behind the dessert salad’s name are interesting, but have less believability. Some say that pistachio was a favorite flavor of Nixon’s, or that the chef at the Watergate Hotel put the “salad” on the brunch menu with regularity at the time of the scandal. There’s little evidence to back up those claims, though. It’s also possible that a number of food writers and newspaper editors, hoping to capitalize off of the scandal, rebranded Pineapple Pistachio Delight with the political moniker. One version of the origin story credits an unnamed Chicago food editor with pulling off that trick.
Another common hypothesis is that the name is meant to allude to the fact that the contents of the salad are “covered up” in whipped cream. There’s no real documentation for this joke-based origin either, sadly.
In all likelihood, the cake, coupled with scandal, probably gave the unusual ambrosia-like dish its title, but not because the recipe had any real connection to the troubles in the White House. The name merely capitalized off of current events. But 45 years later, as impeachment becomes part of the national conversation once more, this cooling dish continues to deploy its charms. Try whipping it up as part of your next potluck, especially if the political discussion becomes too heated.
GET THE RECIPE: Watergate Salad