Cranberry Jell-O Salad is an old fashioned side dish or dessert that’ll be a show-stopping addition to your menu. Your guests will love the memories that come flooding back when this hits the table!
This can’t be a vintage recipe blog with a Jell-O Salad, right? I happen to really love this Cranberry Jell-O Salad, which is packed with fruit with cranberries and fresh orange zest as the stars.
The recipe comes from a 1980s church cookbook, though I suspect the recipe has been around for much longer. Gelatin salads became popular as early as the 1900s and their popularity peaked in middle of the century before declining in the 1970s. Serious Eats has a really interesting article on the history of them, if you’re curious!
Gelatin salads run the gamut between savory and sweet, and this particular recipe is definitely sweet. I think it makes a great holiday side dish, either for Thanksgiving or Christmas. It could also be served for dessert!
- Fresh cranberries are the star of this salad. You’ll need one 16-ounce bag.
- We’ll use both the zest and the segments of an orange. The zest adds such great flavor that complements the cranberries well.
- They don’t make cranberry Jell-O, so strawberry Jell-O is the perfect substitute. You could also use cherry Jell-O.
A note on the pineapple
There are some people who say to NEVER put pineapple in a Jell-O salad. Their logic isn’t entirely faulty.
Pineapple contains protease, which can inhibit gelatin from setting up. I haven’t had any issue putting pineapple in Jell-O salads. However, I would absolutely avoid the use of pineapple juice as the liquid in a Jell-O salad. Too much protease will indeed create a soft Jell-O salad that never firms up, so I error on the side of caution and use water as the liquid in this salad.
How to make cranberry Jell-O salad
Start by lightly misting a 9-inch bundt pan with cooking spray. This is the inexpensive bundt pan that I have.
You can also use a gelatin mold. Tupperware makes them, or use a vintage mold if you have it!
Use a paper towel to wipe away an excess oil that pools in the pan from the cooking spray—you just a fine coating of oil here.
Next, drain the pineapple in a fine mesh strainer. Press the pineapple with a spatula until all of the liquid comes out.
Then, zest the orange and chop the orange into segments. Place the orange segments, chopped apple, and fresh cranberries in the bowl of a food processor.
Pulse the mixture until it reaches the consistency of large flake coconut. Some chunks are ok! You just want it to be chopped well. Stir in the orange zest.
Heat 2 cups of water until boiling, then whisk in the sugar and strawberry Jell-O. Add 1 cup of cold water and stir to combine.
Combine the chopped fruit and the Jell-O mixture. Pour into the greased pan or mold.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours to set up. To unmold the salad, grease a serving platter lightly with cooking spray. This will allow you to move the salad if it lands off-center.
Invert the salad onto a serving platter and wait for the PLOP! If it doesn’t unmold within a minute or two, place the pan in a few inches of warm water for 20–30 seconds, then try again.
Garnish with fresh cranberries and orange peel, and serve! I used a channel knife to create those orange peel swirls. Use the large hole of the channel knife and work your way around the orange, then twirl the strips around your finger to create the swirl.
Tips and troubleshooting
1. Grease the serving platter before inverting the salad. This will allow you to easily move the salad if it lands off-center. Then, just wipe away any leftover oil from the edges.
2. If the salad won’t unmold, place the pan into a few inches of warm water for 20–30 seconds. I found that an angel food cake pan filled with warm water was the perfect size for holding my bundt pan. You can also just use a sink of warm water. Don’t let it sit any longer than 30 seconds before trying again. Any longer and the salad can potentially melt and lose its shape.
3. You can also try to loosen the edges of the salad with a dull knife in order to remove it easily from the pan.
4. Save a few fresh cranberries to garnish the platter.
Can I freeze Jell-O to get it to set up faster?
Do not freeze Jell-O to speed along the cooling process. Freezing will compromise the texture of the dish and it will be ruined.
Why can’t I use pineapple juice in Jell-O salads?
Pineapple juice contains protease, which inhibits gelatin from setting up. Many salads contain pineapple itself, which does not affect the salad. Pineapple juice (usually a large amount of it) will result in a soft Jell-O salad that doesn’t hold its shape, so it’s best to avoid it altogether.
Can I make Jell-O salad ahead of time?
Jell-O salad will successfully keep in your refrigerator for several days before serving. Keep the salad in its mold and cover it with plastic wrap to keep it fresh.
More holiday side dishes
I love this salad as a side dish for Thanksgiving or Christmas. It looks so pretty and festive on a cake stand (this one is similar to mine). Any round serving platter works, though!
Cranberry Jell-O Salad
- Bundt pan or gelatin mold
- 1 lb fresh cranberries
- 1 medium apple, roughly chopped
- 1 navel orange
- 1 (20 oz) can crushed pineapple
- 2 (3 oz) packages strawberry Jell-O
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- Lightly spray a bundt cake pan or gelatin mold with cooking spray. Use a paper towel to wipe away any oil that pools in the dish—you want only a fine misting of oil throughout the pan.
- Place the crushed pineapple in a fine mesh strainer, and strain VERY well. Use a spatula to press ALL of the liquid out of the pineapple. This is an important step to ensure that the Jell-O sets up in the refrigerator.
- Zest the orange and set the zest aside. Peel the orange and roughly chop it. Place the orange in the bowl of a food processor with the apple and fresh cranberries. Pulse until the mixture is the consistency of shredded coconut. Place the mixture in a large bowl.
- Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Whisk in both packages of strawberry Jell-O and the sugar. Add one cup of very cold water and whisk to combine.
- Pour the gelatin mixture over the fruit in the large bowl. Stir to combine. Stir in the reserved orange zest.
- Transfer the mixture to the greased bundt pan or gelatin mold. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap or foil, and place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, or up to 48 hours. The gelatin will wiggle slightly when it's ready, but it should not seem wet or soupy.
- When you're ready to serve the salad, lightly grease a cake platter or serving dish with cooking spray. This will allow you to move the salad on the plate if necessary.
- Place the serving dish on top of the bundt pan/mold, and carefully flip the pan/mold so it's upside down. If the salad doesn't come out of the pan/mold right away, give it a few minutes. You will hear a "plop"!
- If the salad still hasn't come out, turn the pan/mold back over, and place it in a few inches of warm water for 15–20 seconds. Then try to invert it again. Continue this process until the salad comes out of the mold.
- Garnish with fresh cranberries and orange peel, and serve.