For as long as I can remember someone — be it my mother, my grandmother, aunts, uncles or cousins — has made Crab Meat Mold for the holidays. In my completely biased opinion, it is the king of holiday appetizers.
When you describe this dish, it doesn’t sound terribly appealing — but don’t let that fool you. The combination of Campbell’s Cream of Shrimp Soup, mayonnaise, cream cheese, crab meat, onion, celery and gelatin is magic.
It’s not an uncommon recipe. Do a Google search for crab meat mold and plenty of variations on the basic recipe will pop up. But my family recipe — the Treat family recipe — is, again, in my completely biased opinion, unequivocally the best.
My grandmother Virginia Treat got the recipe from her friend, Rae Smith, sometime in the 1950s — that combination of canned soup and gelatin is a pretty distinct hallmark of American food of the 50s. The Smiths were close friends of my grandparents; Ginny and Rae stayed in touch through the decades despite my grandparents living in Belfast and the Smiths living in Orono. Rae’s husband, Basil, and my grandfather Jay, were stationed in San Francisco after leaving the South Pacific during World War II.
Now in its third generation of making appearances at holiday dinner, it’s rather decadent. But it’s also virtually impossible to tear yourself away from it when it is set out with Ritz crackers in the hour or two before Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. Many an appetite has been spoiled by its distinctive pleasures.
Crab Meat Mold
serves a crowd (about 24)
1 8-oz. package cream cheese
1 can Campbell’s Cream of Shrimp soup (accept no substitutes)
½ cup diced onion
1 cup mayonnaise (you can use light mayo, makes no difference)
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold water
1 cup diced celery
½ pound crab meat
Heat large saucepan on medium. Quickly spray the bottom of the pan with cooking spray and add the onions. After just a minute, add the soup and the cream cheese and stir until everything is thoroughly melted and mixed. Add the cup of mayonnaise, mix thoroughly and remove from heat. Heat a small saucepan on low heat and add one cup of cold water and both envelopes of gelatin and stir until fully dissolved. Stir the gelatin into the soup and cheese mixture, and then stir in the crab and the celery. Pour the mixture into one six-cup or two three-cup molds, and refrigerate for two to three hours. Serve with Ritz crackers.