Watergate salad, also referred to as Pistachio Delight or Shut The Gate Salad, or even Green Goop, Green Goddess, Green Fluff or Green Stuff, is a side dish or dessert “salad” made from pistachio pudding, canned pineapple, whipped topping, crushed pecans, and mini marshmallows (and sometimes garnished with a maraschino cherry on top).
My Mom loved this salad. Her birthday was in February and her birthstone was emerald, so I used to make this for her and joke that I was giving her “something green” as a gift!
This simple, five minute preparation, dump-and-mix salad is a real retro classic that so many of us remember our grandmas and moms making in our coal region home kitchens. If I counted how many potlucks, family gatherings, and holiday dinners it showed up on the table for, I’d need a pen and paper to keep track.
It is not only budget-friendly, but it is so simple it makes a great first “cooking” project for kids in the kitchen. Delicious and addicting, Watergate Salad brings back some very good memories for me and I have never outgrown my love for it. But in many parts of the country, this salad is pretty much forgotten.
This salad, in its present form of pudding, pineapple, marshmallows, whipped topping and nuts, has now been around for generations, dating back to the mid 1970’s when Kraft launched its instant pistachio pudding and called the dish “Pineapple Pistachio Delight”.
The connection to it being called “Watergate Salad” (a name Kraft refused to use until 1993) is surmised to have happened either because 1) It closely resembled Watergate cake, a similarly green-hued dessert made with pistachio pudding in the mix and sometimes in the icing (most likely scenario), 2) Rumors spread that the salad was a specialty of the Watergate hotel’s restaurant (but there’s no evidence it was ever served there) or 3) A Kraft food editor printed it in a newspaper and renamed it Watergate Salad to stir more interest in the recipe (the Watergate presidential scandal was fresh in people’s minds at the time). Whatever its origin, the Watergate Salad name stuck.
But long before that, going back to the turn of the 20th century (early 1900’s), a product known as “instant gelatin” came onto the market. Instant gelatin allowed for marshmallows, gelatin molds, picnic salads, and desserts to be made at home with far less effort than before. From this “instant gelatin” arose fluffy, jiggly new desserts by American cooks called “delights” and “salads“. The “Pineapple Pistachio Delight” has its original roots in the plethora of fruity and fluffy desserts that came from the instant gelatin craze.
The recipe is very mid-20th-century and screams “retro”; the Jet Puffed marshmallows, the Jell-O pudding, the Cool Whip (all brands now owned by Kraft) and the funky green color. It’s a ’70’s throwback all the way.
As the Watergate scandal faded in the minds of many Americans, so did the Watergate Salad. Cooks moved away from gelatin and pudding desserts and the salad became relegated to dinner at grandma’s or church suppers. Once wildly popular molded gelatin salads became the butt of more jokes than the Christmas fruitcake. The latest generation of cooks have often never even heard of Watergate Salad let alone tasted it.
If you have not had this in a very long time, or never had it, take a trip down fabulous retro food lane and whip up a batch!
Chillin’ With Tips For Perfect Fluff
- This recipe needs to chill before serving to allow the flavors to blend and the marshmallows to soften and expand to give the salad the proper consistency. You can easily make it the day before you plan to serve it.
- Be sure to use Instant pudding.
- You can substitute sugar-free pudding and lite whipped topping.
- You can use walnuts instead of pecans.
- DON’T SKIP THE MARSHMALLOWS! The marshmallows soften and add to the consistency – without them the fluff will be too wet.
Watergate SaladCourse: Dessert, SaladCuisine: Coal RegionDifficulty: Easy
1 (3.4 ounce) box instant pistachio pudding mix
1 (20 ounce) can crushed pineapple in its juice (do not drain)
1 cup miniature marshmallows
1/2 cup chopped pecans
8 ounce container frozen whipped topping (like Cool Whip), thawed
OPTIONAL: Maraschino cherries, well drained or additional chopped pecans for garnish
- Add pudding mix and pineapple with the juice to a large bowl. Stir to combine well..
- Gently fold in the thawed whipped topping until well blended.
- Fold in marshmallows and pecans.
- Chill 2 hours, or overnight, before serving. .
- OPTIONAL: Garnish with maraschino cherry.
- Store in refrigerator up to 3 days
- You can make this into a pie. Just pour the mixture into a ready made or homemade graham cracker crust, and chill as directed.