Sunday, July 31, 2011

Salad Oughtn't Wiggle

After Grandmother died in 1993 I spent several days in Morristown with my parents clearing out the house she lived in for more than fifty years. I found sunbonnets my mother and aunts had worn as girls, fabulous Christmas ornaments, books and seemingly endless boxes and bags of family papers (many of which have been or will be featured on this blog). I had an especially good time going through the kitchen.

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I'd always loved that kitchen. It was a huge, sunny room at the back of the house. There was a breakfast nook with benches and a table that was just like a restaurant or diner. Once you slid in you were trapped until the adult on the end would let you out (though very small children were known to slip down and crawl out under the table). The cupboards and drawers had all kinds of well-used gadgets and equipment I never saw in our kitchen at home.

But it was the 43 recipes for molded lime jello salads that were in her recipe box that really sparked the memories. Note that was just for lime jello salads. (Lest you doubt me, you need only google "lime jello salad" images to see the endless possibilities.) There were also the recipes for cherry jello salads, orange jello salads and uncounted recipes for aspics and other congealed foodstuffs. Grandmother, it seems, preferred her food structured and controlled. Wiggling allowed, but no running all over the place.

I'm not sure which I loathed more - the shredded carrot, pineapple, and raisins in lime jello or the chopped ham, horseradish, and peas in lime jello or the cottage cheese in lime jello pictured. Regardless, it seemed every supper or dinner included a version. Sometimes, she would even include the green beans that appeared at every meal (mandated by my grandfather who believed them the food of gods) in the salad du jour. Lettuce was a garnish. Every other fruit or vegetable was encased in something derived from boiling animal carcasses that had more in common with glue than anything I wanted to eat.

It's not that Grandmother was a bad cook. She made wonderful chicken salads (the uncongealed ones), cakes, biscuits and cornbreads. Margaret, who was her housekeeper for many, many years, made the best deep-dish peach pie I will ever eat. I still dream of it. But those jello salads had me squirming and wiggling in my seat so that I must have born more than a passing resemblance to the stuff.

I packed off one recipe and salad mold to each of my cousins in their box of souvenirs and took a couple home with me. Can I find either the recipes or molds today? Of course not. They surely lurk in the nightmare that is my basement, probably shaking a bit in their box with each step we make upstairs.

Written for the 108th edition of Carnival of Genealogy hosted by Jasia at Creative Gene.