The Demise of Heavenly Salad

Heavenly Salad was my mother’s go-to dish.

It was a concoction of fluff, cherries, pineapple bits, nuts, and minature marshmallows. The recipe was straight out of the sixties. At our house, no formal meal was complete until the Heavenly Salad was lovingly arranged in its own crystal bowl, just left of the main dish, tucked in next to a candlestick. We ate it like it was ambrosia. I can’t remember a single holiday meal that it wasn’t on the menu. Even after we married, Heavenly Salad became a part of our holiday meals alongside my mother-in-law’s orange salad. It always amused me that my Tennessee in-law’s favorite fluff salad was UT orange. Coincendence? I think not.

This year, my family will gather for Thanksgiving at my sister’s house. Her menu will feature the same traditional dishes that have always graced our table. There will be a gigantic bird, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, cranberry sauce, green beans (from her garden), deviled eggs, and macaroni and cheese. We’ll have that Rockwell moment, where we all look at the food before us and give thanks. When I called her to ask what I should bring, she said, “You make the Heavenly Salad.”

Great. The sister that has all but eliminated processed food and processed sugar is supposed to buy the crap that makes up this so-called salad? But I agreed and mentioned that perhaps I could sneak in some turnip greens. She chose to overlook my suggestion; after all, turnip greens aren’t a traditional Hailey Thanksgiving dish. Ever since that phone call, I’ve pondered just how I was going to tell her that this year, it’s time we ditch the Heavenly Salad. I know when I suggest it, it will send her off her rocker. Great wails of despair will come from kids who devour it. Everyone will feel deprived.  Well, almost.

So what do I do? Do I make it so that everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving and a sugar coma? Or do I use this moment establish new traditions? It won’t be easy. More than likely, I’ll cave in and make the darn stuff. After all, my sister is under enough stress already with tackling this holiday feast. And does it really matter? Probably not. And I certainly don’t have to eat it.

I wonder what a little bit of kale will do for it?

Heavenly Salad by Marcella Griffin
Featured in Countryside Recipes
Printed in 1962 by the Providence Rural United Methodist Women

3 eggs
2T vinegar
2T sugar
2T lemon juice

Cook and stir completely. Will be lumpy. Place in bowl. Fold in the following ingredients and chill.

1 lg can of crushed pineapple
1 package of mini marshmellows
1 c pecans pieces
1 pt whipped cream

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My Sidekick in the Kitchen

Luke had a mission. He wanted to learn how to cook.

It’s not everyday that I get propositioned by a grad student.

“If you teach me how to cook,” he said softy, “I’ll work in your yard.”

No sweeter words were ever spoken to a middle-aged woman whose beloved husband hates yard work. I didn’t think twice before I agreed to our deal that Saturday morning in June. He told me that he had tried my method of grocery shopping where I only purchase items that contain less than three ingredients. Frustrated by his experience using my golden rule, he proclaimed that I was crazy. Nothing, he staunchly claimed, had less than three ingredients.

“It depends on where you’re looking,” I said. “If you shop the outside aisles and avoid the middle ones, you’ll easily find the real food.”

The look on his face was priceless as it dawned on him that “whole food” means “real food.”

While he worked at his summer internship in Louisiana, I made plans. After all, Luke Welch doesn’t ever want to know merely the gist of things. He wants the fine details, the step-by-step analysis, as he has a need to understand everything. This wasn’t going to be something I could simply breeze or fake my way through.

All summer I thought about potential menus and ingredients. Just what cooking skills did a 23-year old male need to learn to prepare him for living on his own? He wasn’t a complete novice; his parents cook after all. And he had some excellent skills with a grill.  But as a reader of this blog, he was curious about nutrition and why I spent so much time and energy canning.

The week he got back into town, he met us at the Farmer’s Market. Thus began our routine. Nearly every Saturday morning since August, he has met us at the Farmer’s Market. The tall young man observed my purchases, carried my bags, and waited patiently with my Beloved while I talked to friends and neighbors. Afterwards, we would head to a local diner for breakfast and make plans for the day. I have to tell you, we’ve had the best fun. Or at least I have. That first weekend Cheyenne, our niece, was home. She had never met Luke, but over the years she heard us talk about the kid who mowed our yard and who had been our preferred babysitter. She watched (open jawed) while he threw insults my way. She even remarked that if she had said something like that to me, she’d be grounded. I agreed. Luke gets away with giving me the occasional reality check like no one else does.

Each weekend we tackled a cooking or canning project. I taught him how to make a roast and stir-fry vegetables (perfect dinner date menu). I taught him how to make a fruit crumble (perfect hostess gift for when he’s invited to dinner). We’ve cooked for a tailgate party and we threw an impromptu dinner party. He introduced me to the music of Amos Lee. He perused my cookbooks and learned his way around our kitchen better than, well, me.

I took advantage of willing hands to tackle a couple big canning projects.

During Labor Day weekend, I took advantage of having him, Cheyenne, and Katie (another niece) home. We canned 35 jars of salsa, a half dozen jars of pickled okra, as well as dozens of jars of apple butter and apple sauce. Henry Ford would have been impressed with our little assembly line.

Luke has been by my side cooking and canning all that the fall has offered. He’s learned to like turnip greens, and he’s learned how to make pesto. He’s discovered how homemade applesauce can become transcendent when dolloped over organic granola. He’s learned the importance of owning an iron skillet and that there will never be anything claiming to be non-stick in my kitchen. I’ve driven him crazy because I don’t follow a single recipe, nor do I write them down. He has thoughtfully made notes, often shaking his head at my attempts to describe measurements. Apparently “a little of this” or “a little of that” isn’t scientifically relevant.

If he’s learned nothing else, he’s learned the importance of having a cast iron skillet. My Beloved refuses to cook with anything else.

My Beloved has provided as much instruction as I have. They’ve taste tested our home-brewed beers and discussed at great lengths the fundamental tools needed in a kitchen.

It didn’t take him long to take over the task of preparing dinner for his parents. I’ve loved watching him post pictures on Instagram of his newest creations. He claims that we’ve ruined him from eating at restaurants or eating anything but whole food. The night he added a little whiskey to his homemade pizza dough to enhance its flavor and help the yeast, I knew that he had become a foodie. Our work was done.

Its been hard for me to write about our time together because I know it’s coming to an end. Soon he’ll graduate with his master’s degree and move hundreds of miles west to a new job. He’s going to have a great time discovering Tex-Mex cooking and the local food culture of the city he’ll now call home.

I’ve often pondered what was the goal of my writing this blog. Luke has taught me that it has the power to change the world–by teaching the curious about real food. We haven’t had the chance to tackle my yard project yet, but it doesn’t matter. Because I’ve gotten so much more than the value of any yard work. I’ve gotten memories for a lifetime of when I had a handsome culinary student that brought joy into my kitchen.

Go forth, my dear Luke, and forever eat well.