Most political scandals tell the same story: Peel back the sweet, innocuous surface and there’s nothing but a bunch of nuts beneath. The same could be said of Watergate cake, a cosmic-green dessert that allows you to indulge your sweet tooth along with your nostalgia for the break-in that brought down a president.
Watergate cake’s origins go back further than that fateful thwarted burglary on June 17, 1972. They begin with a “salad” that was really a pudding. As companies were pushing instant foods in the 1950s and ’60s, dishes like fruit salads got makeovers. When “pistachio salad” debuted, the only fruit inside was canned pineapple—mini marshmallows, chopped nuts, pistachio-flavored pudding, and Cool Whip made up the rest.
By the 1970s, housewives transformed the salad into cake with the addition of white cake mix, vegetable oil, and club soda. They also swapped out the pineapple and mini marshmallows for pecans (or sometimes walnuts) and sweetened, dried coconut flakes. They frosted their finished creations with pistachio pudding–laced Dream Whip.
Some time after President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974, both dishes were renamed Watergate salad and Watergate cake. With a “cover-up” of green icing or pudding hiding a bunch of nuts, each treat offered a bright, sweet counterpoint to one of the most shocking periods of modern political history. It should be noted that many versions don’t actually hide the nuts very well, perhaps a nod to the fact that Nixon’s deeds were eventually discovered.
Nixon’s take? No word on the pistachio-based treats, but during his presidency, rumors flew that the 37th president loved ketchup on his cottage cheese. Suddenly, the Watergate desserts don’t seem so scandalous.
Need to Know
While you probably won't see Watergate cake in bakeries, you can make one at home with the help of an online recipe and the "instant food" aisle.