Cheese Salad (Chilled): A Taste of Nostalgia

Kate Follansbee

The Margaret Chase Smith Recipes Research Collaborative is an interdisciplinary group of faculty, students, and staff at the University of Maine. Members represent a wide range of disciplines including history, sociology, folklore, anthropology, public policy, food science, and business. Senator Smith was a trailblazer, passionate about bringing people together through civil discourse, often over a home-cooked meal. She was a proud homemaker throughout her thirty-three years in office, and she maintained an extensive recipe collection, using recipes from her collection to entertain fellow policymakers in Washington and at home in Maine. The collaborative formed to support students and faculty interested in issues of food, recipes, politics, history, and their intersections.

This post is part of a series of student research projects exploring a recipe from Smith’s collection from an Honors tutorial taught by Dr. Rachel Snell in Spring 2019. Combined the students’ insights provide a new window into Sen. Smith’s private and public persona as well as the cultural, social, and scientific context of her lifetime. 

A congressional portrait of Sen. Smith.

Margaret Chase Smith was a Maine native and a groundbreaking woman in political history. As the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress, Smith maintained a domestic charm while becoming a powerful and independent politician. Smith lived her entire life (aside from her time in Washington) in Skowhegan, Maine. She never went to college and was a devoted wife to Clyde Smith, who was a member of the House of Representatives. As a politician’s wife, she honed her skills as a political candidate, learning how to connect with the people. Before Clyde died in 1940, he asked her to take his seat in the house. This was the start of her thirty-three-year career in Congress. 

While in office, Smith received many recipe requests. Smith had a collection of recipe utilizing Maine ingredients prepared on her Senate office stationery, always ready to mail a recipe. Many of her recipes were heavily influenced by Maine foods traditions, such as blueberry muffins, lobster dishes, and baked beans. An anomaly within the collection is a card containing the directions to prepare Cheese Salad (chilled). Our class, “Food, Feminism, and Femininity,” has focused on Smith’s recipe collection, and I selected the cheese salad recipe for analysis for several reasons. First, I was intrigued by the mix of ingredients. Cheese salad (chilled) contains mayonnaise, pineapple, maraschino cherries, green pepper, cream, walnuts, and paprika. The instructions are also quite vague, presenting a challenge for preparing the recipe. Finally, I wanted to look more deeply into the emergence of convenience foods in the twentieth century, and the idea of what constituted a “salad” during this period. 

Recipe for “Cheese Salad (Chilled)” from Smith’s recipe collection. Courtesy of the Margaret Chase Smith Museum and Library. 

Reading through the recipe and noting the ingredients, reminded me of another class research project focused on Maine community cookbooks compiled in the 1920s and 1930s. My classmates and I noted a prevalence of molded salads in these texts, concoctions of fruit, vegetables, dairy, gelatin, and sometimes meat that were hugely unappealing to our twenty-first-century palates. In my examination of The Wilton Cookbook compiled by the ladies of the Wilton Episcopal Church in 1922, I noted a number of recipes for molded salads such as Nut Frappe, Pineapple Cream, and Lemon Sponge. These concoctions frequently relied on gelatin to hold the ingredients and whipped cream to provide taste and texture. These recipes especially are quite “of the times” in terms of ingredients. I noted many convenience foods, including whipped cream, which Diane Tye discusses in Baking as Biography, as “a convenience food which was often mixed with canned or frozen fruit.” Tye also covers the popularity of gelatin, The Wilton Cookbook contains advertisements for Knox Sparkling Gelatin at the top of every page, indicating the company as a potential sponsor of the cookbook but also the prevalence of gelatin in popular cooking.

The recipe and image for “Under-the-Sea Salad” from The Greater Jell-O Recipe Book(1931) provides a sense of the flavor combination and attention to presentation in popular molded salad recipes. Courtesy of the Michigan State University Archives. 

The insights from this research guided my interpretation of Smith’s Cheese Salad (Chilled) recipe. The “Salad” portion of Smith’s recipe collection mainly consists of recipes for salad dressing; however, in addition to the Cheese Salad, there are three other molded salad recipes. Ribbon Salad, Lime Cucumber Salad, and the simply named “Salad” that rely on combinations of convenience foods (canned fruit cocktail or tomato soup) with mayonnaise and/or cream cheese (Lime Cucumber Salad is an outlier calling for cottage cheese) with flavored Jell-O or plain gelatin served molded. These too offered some guidance for my analysis. 

Ingredients for assembling Cheese Salad (chilled). Photo by the author.

I had several initial questions. What is a cheese salad even supposed to taste like? How much salt and paprika? How do you serve it? It says, “freeze stiff,” so was I supposed to serve it stiff? Like ice cream? With very little information given, I decided to make cheese salad into a dip for crackers. I decided that for a dip, two packages of cream cheese would make the most sense. I decided that the chopped fruit should look like the fruit you would get in a fruit cake mix, so I chopped everything into tiny cubes. I determined that crushed pineapple would probably work better than chopping pineapple slices because they have a tendency to shred into pieces I added ½ teaspoon of salt, because that seems standard for recipes (based on things that I have cooked in the past) and ¼ of paprika, because I did not want to go overboard with a surprising flavor. In my opinion, even that much was too much—the paprika was too overwhelming. After mixing everything, I decided to put it in a rounded bowl so that when I flipped it, it would look molded. I based this decision on my knowledge of past generation’s fascination with molded salads. I will not lie; this step was quite unappealing; the mixture smelled odd and looked like lumpy, flesh-colored ice cream. While the outcome looks deceptively like a cake, cheese salad tastes like a fascinating mix of sweet and salty, and the paprika is quite evident.

Cheese Salad (Chilled) plated for serving with crackers. Photo by the author.

Serving this dish to different groups revealed changing tastes and the power of nostalgia in the enjoyment of a recipe. When I served this dish to my twenty-year-old peers, they were all disgusted, and I figured that the recipe was a complete failure. However, when I fed the same dish to a group of college professors, whose ages ranged from 30s to 60s, they had a completely different reaction. The professors remarked that the dish reminded them of housewarming parties from their childhood, their grandmothers’ cooking, and 1950s-esque foods. Many told me about similar recipes, such as ambrosia salad or dishes involving Cool Whip, mayonnaise, and Jell-O powder. All in all, I learned that taste changes with generation, so while cheese salad might not be such a hit at a sweet sixteen, consider it if you want to make something reminiscent of decades past.

Kate Follansbee is a third-year Communications major with a minor in Economics and member of the Honors College at the University of Maine. 


Janann Sherman, No Place for a Woman: A Life of Senator Margaret Chase Smith(New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001). 

Diane Tye, Baking as Biography: a Life Story in Recipes(Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010).

Methodist Episcopal Church, Wilton Cookbook (Nelson Print, 1922).

Making Mr. Song’s Cheeses

By Miranda Brown

The subject of this post may strike readers as odd. The combination of “Chinese” and “cheese” brings little to mind: neither memorable textures, nor fragrant flavors. Nothing, not even a single name like Parmesan or cheddar. The reason for the dearth of associations is obvious enough. Cheese is largely absent from the Chinese diet, nowadays found only in the periphery of the Chinese world, in places like Yunnan and Mongolia, where it is regarded as ethnic food for Tibetans and other minorities.

Yet things were different several hundred years ago. Chinese gastronomes once waxed poetic about the taste and texture of cheese, professing their preference for it over elaborate delicacies. One poet, living in the thirteenth century, extolled the flavor of cheese, saying, “No need for fancy morsels when there is cheese!”[1] Another, living a century later, asserted the superiority of dairy to bean curd. “While this old fellow is content with his tofu,” he wrote, “The delight gotten from cheese is double.”[2]  These early foodies related recipes for manufacturing fresh, non-melting cheeses like paneer and the secrets for creating stretched curds like mozzarella.

Over the last several years, I have experimented with recipes for Chinese cheese, attempting to recapture the flavors and textures of centuries past. One recipe, for stretched-curd “milk threads,” proved tricky. Preserved in a 16thc-cookbook, Song’s Instructions for Preserving Life (Songshi yangsheng bu 宋氏養生部), the recipe can be summarized like this:

  1. Heat cow’s milk until hot.
  2. Pour in a souring agent (akin to diluted vinegar), dripping it into the milk gradually.
  3. Once a curd forms, collect it with a cotton wrap and shape into a disc.
  4. Take the curd and place inside of a pot of scalding water.
  5. In a separate vessel of scalding water, press it into the shape of a thin sheet of coarse silk.
  6. Place the curd onto a stick, rolling and pulling.
  7. Put the curd inside the scalding water in the pot, rolling and pulling three to five more times while in the water.
  8. Roll out the resulting thread, placing it on a rack to dry in the sun (oil can be added to make the product smoother).[3]

This recipe assumes a working knowledge of the cheesemaking process. Hence, the omission of precise measurements. Readers must know beforehand the quantities of milk or souring agent, and the temperature of the milk or scalding water. Needless to say, this presents a challenge to a modern cook who is unfamiliar with cheesemaking.

My first attempts to produce the cheese failed, even with un-homogenized milk. The resulting curds, small and grainy, refused to stretch after being immersed in hot water. I sought help from Youtube, watching videos of Indian housewives making kalari, a non-rennet string cheese that was similar to Song’s stretched curd in terms of ingredients (cow’s milk, vinegar, hot water). I noticed that when coagulating the milk, the home cooks would test the temperature of the milk with their fingers, stopping the heating process once they could no longer keep their fingers in the liquid, rather than waiting for the milk to come to a soft boil as one would when making ricotta or paneer. This made me think that control of temperature was key to success, something hinted by Song’s own directions: heat the milk until hot, not boiling. Still, my subsequent efforts to make the cheese failed despite the care taken during the initial curdling process. I wondered if the pasteurization process, which requires that the milk be heated to at least 165° Fahrenheit, had something to do with my lack of success.

My breakthrough came during a trip to California, where I was able to purchase raw or unpasteurized milk. I heated a quart of the raw milk gently until hot (110° F), then poured in a little diluted vinegar and shut off the heat, all the while continuously stirring the milk. Within minutes, the milk transformed into one large curd.

Figure 1: Raw milk coagulated with diluted vinegar. Image courtesy of the author.
Figure 1: Raw milk coagulated with diluted vinegar . Image courtesy of the author.

I removed the curd and heated a pot of water to simmering, and immersed the curd into the scalding water for a few moments, removing it from the pot and kneading, repeating the process three times. Voilà, an elastic curd that stretched easily.

Figure 2: The stretched curd with the author, made with a quart of milk. Image courtesy of the author.
Figure 2: The stretched curd with the author, made with a quart of milk. Image courtesy of the author.

Looking back at the experience with Chinese cheesemaking, I can say that the success of my experiment depended on a variety of factors: knowledge of arcane texts, watching other cheesemakers at work, and many failed experiments in the kitchen.

Miranda Brown teaches the history of Chinese science and food in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. Fascinated with recipes of all kinds, she is the author of the Art of Medicine in Early China (2015) and with Yang Yong, “The Wuwei Medical Manuscripts” (2017). She is currently writing a book about the premodern history of dairy in China.


[1] Zhu Xi  朱熹, Zhuzi wenji 朱子文集 (Taipei: Defu wenjiao jijinhui, 2000), 3/110.

[2] Yang, Lian 楊鐮 (chief editor), Quan Yuan shi 全元詩 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2013), 109.

[3] For a translation of the whole recipe, see Miranda Brown, “Mr. Song’s Cheeses, South China, 1368-1644.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies (Forthcoming). 

History Carnival 159: A Question of Scale

By Lisa Smith

Image credit: Wikipedia, Pratheep P S, www.pratheep.com.
Image credit: Wikipedia, Pratheep P S, www.pratheep.com.

Welcome to History Carnival 159! We’re delighted here at The Recipes Project to be hosting the September edition. It’s been a great month for history blogging and I was spoiled for choice. Some months, themes just seem to suggest themselves. What jumped out at me was ‘big’: discoveries, personalities, thinking and questions…

First up, September 2016 was notable for an exciting  discovery in Canada’s north: the HMS Terror. The HMS Terror was one of the lost ships of the Franklin expedition, which had set out in 1845 to explore the Northwest Passage. Out of the ones written this month, my two favourites were by Tina Adcock and Shane McCorristine. The first I like as much for its presentation (a Twitter essay) as for its powerful story in which Adcock looks at the forgetting of indigenous knowledge and the legacies of colonialism. The second is an article by Shane McCorristine rather than a blog post, but I’ve included it for its supernatural twist to the history of the expedition. (And we are heading into the spooky month of October, after all.)

HMS Terror. Image credit: After George Back - National Archives of Canada / C-029929.
Image credit: HMS Terror, After George Back – National Archives of Canada / C-029929.

There were also a lot of big personalities who arrived in my submission pile. Yvonne Seale provides a beginner’s reading list for medieval nuns, which includes some fantastic biographies of interesting women and will appeal to academics and non-academics alike. James Keating introduces us to the iconic Australian feminist, Vida Goldstein, and her contributions to the international suffrage movement. He considers why Australian women like Goldstein remained marginal figures in the transnational campaign, despite their early success back home. (Answer: local context is everything.)

The one woman I really wanted to meet, though, was Mary Scales*, an Australian psychic and ancestor of Samadhi Driscoll. In Driscoll’s words:

A famous clairvoyant, Mary would fall into dramatic psychic trances in which she would foretell the future. She apparently foretold everything from the Boer war to the winners of the Melbourne Cup. Then there were her highly-publicised and victorious court appearances in both criminal and civil trials – one of them at the High Court of England, where Mary’s eccentric antics captured the imaginations of the media worldwide.

Need I say more?

In September, thoughts of historians lightly turn to thoughts of… methodology. There was a lot of big thinking going on this month. As part of a roundtable on LaShawn Harris’ book, Sex Workers, Psychics, and Numbers Runners: Black Women in New York City’s Underground Economy, Brian Purnell reflects on ‘The Difficulty of Uncovering Obscure Lives and Hidden Histories’. He wonders: ‘How can a researcher and writer find information and recreate a story about people and practices that, by their very nature, did not want to be found or known?’ The result, he notes, is a complicated methodology and messy categories. Categories were also Brodie Waddell’s inspiration for thinking about early modern society, more specifically terms used to describe people’s social status.   As Waddell puts it, “if we hope to understand past societies, we need to know much more about how people labelled themselves and their neighbours, and how these labels related to the concrete realities of daily life.”

Clara Peeters, Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels, 1615. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Clara Peeters, Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels, 1615. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

For Nadine Weidman and Will Pooley, historical imagination and narrative were at the heart of their musings. Weidman revisits Laurel Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale to think about how ‘Ulrich faces, as all historians must, the fundamental unknowability of the past’—in her case through imagination, close-reading and contextualisation. Pooley wonders how we can find causes for behaviour in the past and the importance of big (issues) and small (individual behaviour) scale in the narratives we find. I also include his post for its reference to cheese and magic and one of the post’s comments, which is a cracking example of cheese-related history.

Historians were also asking some big questions. Some questions were with the intent to explain. Andrea Eidinger attempted to answer her students’ question: how can they identify peer-reviewed articles? Her focus is on Canadian History journals, but she gives useful advice for students more generally! If you’ve ever wondered how Spanish got its ‘n’ with a tilde, there’s a helpful v-log for you. Other questions were broader. David Brydan looks at Franco’s Spain to identify how the Francoists found their way around a tricky situation: “how to talk about international cooperation without adopting the language of liberal or socialist internationalism, particularly without recourse to the familiar internationalist language of peace, freedom, tolerance and equality?” For Migraine Awareness Month, Katherine Foxhall has a thought-provoking post entitled ‘’Migraines were taken more seriously in the past – where did we go wrong?’

But historical recipes, in particular, highlighted the way in which fragments of information can be used to answer big questions.  RP editor, Amanda Herbert, has the chance to use a test kitchen to try out old recipes. She concludes that ‘through careful study and experimentation, our community of scholars uncovered important, large-scale concepts: questions of authorship and identity, experiences of material culture, evidence of labor patterns, constructions of gender and social status, and examples of the cultivation, dissemination, and sharing of early modern knowledge.’

An episode in Tristram Shandy: Doctor Slop, having fallen off his horse, is greeted by Obadiah. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London.
An episode in Tristram Shandy: Doctor Slop, having fallen off his horse, is greeted by Obadiah. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London.

With all of the ‘big’ themes going on this month, it is important not to forget the opposite—those small stories, those fragments. September certainly offered up some tasty crumbs of history. Hels offered a few thoughts on Shakespeare’s schooling. Rebecca Johnston looked at one fascinating letter, which was written to the Cheka in 1921 to request the release of an art historian and critic, Nikolai Punin. And last, but certainly not least, Sharon Howard offers a tale of a strange horse-related accident in eighteenth-century Denbigh.

Take care and travel safe, everyone. See you at History Carnival 160, which will be hosted by Frog in a Well on 1 November!

*Could Mary Scales’ name be any more appropriate for this month?

Say – horse – cheese

By Laurence Totelin

Last time I blogged for the Recipes Project, I talked about mares. I’d like today to return to mares, their milk and the cheese made with it.

Gold Scythian belt buckle with horse. Seventh century BCE. Source: Wikipedia
Gold Scythian belt buckle. Seventh century BCE. Source: Wikipedia.

These were not delicacies that the Greeks and Romans themselves enjoyed. Instead, they had observed their consumption among the Scythians, a series of tribes, often nomadic, inhabiting large expanses of Eurasian steppes in antiquity. The Scythians, and their taste for mare’s milk and cheese, were a topic of fascination among the classical Greek authors. The historian Herodotus devotes a long passage to the way in which the Scythians milked their mares: they used slaves they had blinded for that purpose. One slave blew into the mare’s vulva with a bone tube, while another milked the mare (Histories 4.2). This is a well-known and much discussed passage among ancient historians. Enough to state here that much appears to have been lost in translation between the Scythians and Herodotus’ source! The Greeks did not drink milk themselves on a regular basis (although they used it in medical context), and established a linked between ‘otherness’ or ‘barbarism’ and milk drinking.

What will retain me today is the use of the mare’s cheese recipe in a physiological analogy. The author of the Hippocratic treatise On Generation, On the Nature of the Child and Diseases IV (which dates to the end of the fifth century BCE or the beginning of the fourth) was very fond of analogies, some of which are rather wacky. In the passage that concerns me, he compares the physiological process whereby a bad humour is heated and agitated in the human body to the making of mare’s cheese:

If the man is not purged, as the humour is stirred, there is produced an amount that is excessive. This is similar to what the Scythians make with mare’s milk. For they pour the milk into wooden bowls and shake it. As it is stirred, it foams up and separates. The fatty part, which they call butter, as it is light rises to the surface; the heavy and thick portion sinks to the bottom; they separate it and dry it. When it has become firm and dry, they call it ‘hippakē’. The whey of the milk is in the middle. Similarly in the case of man: when all the humour in his body is stirred, all the humours are separated by the principles I have mentioned: the bile rises to the top, as it is lightest; then comes the blood; third the phlegm; and the water, as it is the heaviest of the humours. (Diseases 4.51, 7.584 Littré)

Milk curdling: butter at the top, whey, solids at the bottom. Source: MARTYN F. CHILLMAID/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Milk curdling: butter at the top, whey, solids at the bottom. Image Credit: MARTYN F. CHILLMAID/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

This is a rich and surprising passage. It mentions four humours, but those are not the four humours we all know (bile, phlegm, blood and black bile). Instead, we find bile, blood, phlegm and water. It is relatively little known that there is only one text in the Hippocratic Corpus that mentions the four humours that would become, under the influence of Galen, canonical: Nature of Man. The number and name of humours varies from one Hippocratic treatise to the next. Our author has a predilection for his ‘water’, the heaviest of all his humours, which he compares to the heavy portion to the Scythian milk. One wonders why this Greek author has chosen a Scythian process as a comparing point. The Greeks did make cheese, but their cheese was of the soft type, kept in brine. They did not make butter and hard cheeses. They did not churn (shake) their milk. The recipe the author provide is reasonably clear, although I would personally find it difficult to make cheese by following it. Looking forward to my feta-based dinner now!