Aspic: The South’s Secret

aspicBig surprise here–I am not as Southern as my family is. Oh sure, I can throw a y’all around like it’s nobody’s bidness,and I love chatting with strangers. But when it comes to Southern cuisine I am a grits and biscuit gal, not a gumbo and aspic gal.

So did I just hear a couple of you ask, “What the fark is aspic?” Pronounced ass-pick, aspic is a dish that has been around since forever. (Seriously. And you call yourself a foodie.) This is the godfather of jam and Jell-O. Once upon a time, people didn’t eat wiggly strawberry squares filled with floating fruit cocktail; they ate slabs of meat aspic. Aspic is made out of the gelatin of meat bones or cartilage and ingredients like veggies, eggs, or meat is suspended in the stuff. The gelatin actually kept bacteria from rotting the meat–not a bad thing in the 14th century.

My family was more of a tomato aspic family than a meat Jell-O family. My grandmother had a recipe that involved using packages of unflavored Knox gelatin, tomato juice, tabasco and green olives served in a ring. This aspic was at every Christmas Eve dinner because it was just so darn festive with all of the green and red going on.(This recipe, fantastically named Mrs. Dull’s Tomato Aspic Funeral Food Dish, is pretty close if you want to give it a go.)

The amusing thing to me is that I grew up with aspic at every major holiday meal and yet not one person at the most recent holiday meal I attended had ever heard of it. The conversation began as we talked about how fantastic it is to be in charge of your own holiday meal planning (as opposed to having to endure a generations-old feast featuring foods that are familiar but not necessarily fine). Obviously we laughed about green bean casserole. And obviously we laughed about veggies in general. Then I said, “And we don’t have to eat aspic!”

The next thirty minutes became a scramble of hunting and gathering definitions and images from my phone to explain what this Southern cuisine is. “But do you EAT it?” asked someone from across the table. She was looking at a particularly impressive aspic featuring an egg. And while I joined in on the “EW!! GROSS!!” chorus, there was a small moment where I felt ashamed for kicking in the shins a dish that was a part of my heritage–even though I never ate it.

Regional cuisine. We’ve all got our stories. I want to know what was served in your home.


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  1. AmyBlam says:

    Oh my dear lord. Tomato aspic may be the grossest thing I’ve ever eaten. I was at a ladies luncheon and all the old ladies were pleased as punch to be eating it. I??? Was DYING! I have food texture issues and can’t stand jello or tomatos so their unholy love child was too much for me. I tried squishing it so it would look like I ate some…

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  2. Lisa says:

    OMG I LOVE tomato aspic! Only my dad and I eat it out of the 6 in my family, my dad’s mom always made it and now I make it every Christmas and sometimes Easter because the two of us just have to have it! And we are not from the south lol, my grandma is hungarian…we don’t put anything extra in it, just the tomato juice, gelatin, vinegar, sugar and some salt and pepper and yum! Everyone else thinks it’s gross but that just means more for me lol :)

    • Dresden Plaid says:

      wow. seriously.

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    • cin says:

      I’d definitely call sugar and vinegar extras, especially since you just turned a dish that was healthy, or at least healthy for back then (processed fat free/lean protein & salty canned veggie juice) into sweetened tomato flavored jello with vinegar.

      • cin says:

        To author/OP (couldn’t respond to original post/article), just out of curiosity, but how do you get the olives to stay where they are? They appear to be in the mold, but if you them in the liquid they’d never end up like that.

  3. Diana says:

    Kolbas and hungarian nut rolls. We ate them every Easter growing up, but we totally loved them. My grandmother and the hungarian aunts would fight over which deli carried the best kolbas. Now we can’t find it except for the place in Chicago that ships it out.

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    • Dresden Plaid says:

      I believe finding a good hungarian nut roll is what twitter was invented for. Have you done a search for some there? Nothing says retweet like “Find me some sausage!”

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  4. Deb Rox says:

    Evil. There are so often evil eyes in aspic–like those olives, it just isn’t right, and the wobble! Oh the evilness of the wobble!

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  5. Andrea says:

    For Sunday dinners (and especially Easter Sunday), we always had lime jello with carrots and celery suspended in it. It was served on a leaf of iceberg lettuce, and topped with a dollop of Miracle Whip. I always took mine without the MW until my late teens, when I came to my senses. Delicious.

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  6. Bay says:

    I actually think all this aspicity sounds delicious. The only slightly gelatinous ethnic thing we ate was guava paste. Goya sells it in a big flat can. We would spread it on crackers with cream cheese…so yum!

  7. battynurse says:

    Pretty sure I couldn’t eat that. I’m really weird about appearance and textures and that looks wrong on so many levels. I can’t really think of any traditional dishes my family ate although I grew up on peanut butter because my parents put onions in EVERYTHING!

  8. Shelli says:

    Had lots of weird gelatin molds at my family gatherings as a kid. I am sure Aspic was one of them, as we did have a Southern contingent.

    Not my cup of tea though, it reminds me of the green jello mold with cat food served by Aunt Bethany in the movie “Christmas Vacation”. Lol.

  9. Anne Haapanen says:

    Great post.

    Being Finnish, the Christmas foods we had were casserole-based, alongside the traditional ham and this gross salad called Rosolli.

    Carrot casserole, turnip casserole and, my favourite, the liver-rice-raisin casserole. This looked like a grey brick but was really delicious. Now that I’ve gotten older, I don’t have a taste for that casserole any more.

    The rosolli is a salad of cubed beets, apples, carrots, sour cream & potatoes…and pickled herring. Imagine a lurid pink creamy bowl of various cuboid lumps and you get the idea. My aunt & mum usually did make a version without herring, which was really appreciated by anyone who wouldn’t touch that devil fish.

    So, there you have it: some good and some gross Finnish Christmas foods.


  10. HeatherS says:

    Well, I was lucky to grow up Italian…we had lots of yummy things. Except for the traditional Christmas Eve Fish Festival…my sister and I would sit with our shirts over our noses because the house reeked of all things seafood (neither of us are big fans to this day). We always had a ham for Christmas dinner AND a lasagna. For Easter we had something called cheese pie and ham pie (very rich pies made with special cheeses and cream,etc.). As a kid, they weren’t favorites but you grew to appreciate them and enjoy them. My favorite Easter tradition (that I’ve never tasted to this day) I was introduced to by my husband’s Polish family (I was half Polish, too) when I was in high school. It’s called Easter Soup. First, you boil polish keilbasa in water. Then you take out the keilbasa and slice it up. You use the keilbasa boiled water for your broth. I believe you add some vinegar for flavor (?). To it, you add the sliced keilbasa, sliced hard boiled Easter Eggs, and fresh horseradish. I’m sure there are other variations but this is how I remember this. Only my husband’s grandparent’s, great aunt and one Uncle were brave had the tastebuds to enjoy this each year.

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  11. Susannah says:

    So bizarre. I am born and raised in East Tennessee and the only time aspic was ever even mentioned as far back as I can remember (to Sunday “dinner” at my great-grandmother’s house in Tellico Plains) was as a ridiculous joke about Southern stereotypes and how nobody actually really ate that stuff. Guess the joke was on us!!

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  12. Kelly says:

    No aspic that I can remember, but my mom always put hardboiled eggs inside her meatloaf. Looked like a big eye in the middle of a slice. Weird.

  13. marj says:

    Just the sight of it makes me gag. Of course, I grew up in meat and potatoes land so what do I know?

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