Jell-O Journalism: Investigating the Origins of Watergate Salad

When coverage of the Watergate scandal dominated newspapers during the 1970s, not even the food sections were spared. Recipes for “Watergate salad” — a lumpy, mint-hued mélange of pistachio pudding, canned crushed pineapple, chopped nuts, marshmallows, and whipped topping that fell firmly on the dessert end of the Jell-O salad spectrum — began cropping up around 1974. Less clear was where the recipe came from or exactly why it was named after the Nixon administration’s criminal schemes. What is known is that the Watergate salad recipe was first published by General Foods to showcase two of their products: Jell-O instant pistachio pudding and Cool Whip whipped topping. However, at that time — it was 1975, a year after Nixon resigned — the salad carried the name "Pistachio Pineapple Delight." General Foods sent out the recipe to newspapers around the country and one unnamed Chicago food editor decided to change the recipe name to Watergate Salad to attract more readers. In 1976, the Denver Post shared a recipe for Watergate Salad, suggesting that the recipe was originally concocted by a sous-chef at the Watergate Hotel and was served during brunch. However, when questioned, the Denver Post noted that the references were obscure and they were just sharing a "rumor". To this day no one knows for sure where the name Watergate Salad came from, but we do know that the dessert salad still plays a vital role in cookouts and luncheons, and is bound to show up at any self-respecting potluck.