Welcome to Grandma’s Notebook, a series unearthing the hand-written recipes of Mary Woo, the late grandmother of fashion designer Peter Som. Follow along as we dive into 20 years of recipes that trace her Chinese American immigrant experience. Along the way, we’ll discover hidden family secrets, new and enticing flavors, and priceless hand-me-down dishes that deserve a second life in your kitchen.
There it is—on page 99 of her spiral-bound recipe book, written in her loopy cursive and dated May 8, 1977: Shrimp mold.
Shrimp suspended in Jell-O-ed tomato soup… What was that all-American, extremely ‘70s dish doing there, among my late grandmother’s cherished Cantonese staples?
Grandma was open-minded and curious. That curiosity applied to whatever was new and flashy in the supermarket—which, in that era, meant ready-made convenience foods like Jell-O and canned soup. She would often take home a few different cans of Campbell’s and pour them together (with varying levels of success) in an effort to get a creative first course on the dinner table.
In Hong Kong, even middle class families like my grandmother’s often had cooks, but in San Francisco, our family couldn’t afford such luxuries. The reality of feeding a family of eight three meals a day wasn’t something she learned in school, so she took to American-made shortcuts. And that’s how shrimp mold wound up in Grandma’s recipe notebook.
This throwback recipe was my chance to revisit the past, but I knew I had to give it a 2022 spin. Could an updated, more homemade version of the dish provide the same comfort and ease as it did for Grandma?
First thing was first: Out went the tomato soup in favor of roasted cherry tomatoes. The shrimp? To avoid bland, bouncy bits, I puréed them into a rustic pâté. If you’re still dubious, stay with me—the end result was tender, creamy, and savory. Perfect, I thought, for spreading on slices of crunchy baguette.
I invited a few close friends over—Shrimp Mold Night FTW—and set the dish out for nibbling. To my delight, they gobbled it up! And it wasn’t the martinis talking! Sure, I took the jiggly gelatin and tinned soup out of the original mix, but traditions evolve. Certainly, Grandma would approve.