Friday, December 19, 2008
by Mindy Friddle
Every family has one. A little embarrassing perhaps, baffling to outsiders, but it persists nonetheless.
In my family it is pink and cold.
I'm talking about a family recipe. Or--a specialty. Sort of. Sometimes elaborate, mostly just quirky-- family recipes can be as simple as sugar sandwiches (on Sunbeam white bread of course), or elaborate (fig and jalapeno preserves), but they usually come with stories and nostalgia and a fanatical commitment to continue passing the concoction through the generations. (For those of us old enough to have watched The Waltons-- remember the spinster Baldwin sisters and their secret family"special recipe" in those Mason jars? They gave it out to anyone who would take it and apparently they never drank it themselves, but everyone else knew it was gut-rot moonshine.)
In my family the special recipe is PINK SALAD.
Rumor has it the recipe came from a Good Housekeeping magazine circa 1969. My mother, who had started college as a Home Ec major and was always trying out new recipes, made it for a holiday family dinner. It was the age of Aquarius. A tumultuous time of war and protest and, as the textbooks say, great social upheaval. Schools in South Carolina had yet to be integrated (Mom taught Social Studies and coached cheerleaders at one of the African-American high schools) to help put my father, who had recently returned from Vietnam, through law school at USC in Columbia. My father remembers trying to study one day in the law library with his eyes burning, and looking up to find the room full of people who were crying. Outside, there was a huge anti-war protest, led by Jane Fonda, and the National Guard had been called in to break it up with tear gas, which seeped into the buildings. Hence, the library full of weeping students. Meanwhile, I was in kindergarten singing "I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane," and looking forward to a new show for kids on television, called Sesame Street.
But I digress. (Part of the charm of family recipes are the stories that go along with them.) So...my mother made the recipe from a magazine that featured women with that winged hairdo look of Pat Nixon and Dear Abby, women who wore aprons and heels, and looked as if they were on the tail-end of the Mad Men era. This was still the time when a woman's role was to set a fine table, before cholesterol and Lipitor put the brakes on mayonnaise, sour cream and butter, prior to the worries about red dye in Maraschino cherries. Mom brought the frozen pink salad to the family Christmas dinner. No one had ever seen anything like it-- of course we'd had Jello salads, a staple of any southern dinner, but this was...exotic! Both my grandmothers adopted it. Since then, when we've had strep throat or tonsils out or kidney stones or surgeries, it's the first food we ask for. And for nearly four decades, planning our family dinners start out with the same question: Who is going to bring the Frozen Pink Salad?
The thing is, the boyfriends and girlfriends and husbands and significant others throughout the years have never taken to our pink salad. We serve it cut in an individual square on a limp piece of iceberg lettuce (ewww, I know, but this is a nod to the early 70's) on a little salad plate beside your dinner plate, and there it sits like a handsome carved-out chunk of salmon-flecked granite counter top. Is it dessert? They want to know. Is it a sorbet? (Yeah, right.) Jeez it's really...pink, isn't it? This from my husband. That's okay. Family recipes are the secret handshake between relatives.
In the generosity of the season, I share this family recipe with you. Serve it chilled, with a wink, and admit that yes, it is full of nuts, and definitely pink.
THE FROZEN PINK SALAD
1 cup sour cream
1 cup Duke's mayo
1 cup drained crushed pineapple
2 bananas, mashed
1/2 cup chopped nuts
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons chopped cherries
Add lots of cherry juice for color. Mix it all up and smush it in a square metal pan and freeze it until firm. Then cut into squares.
Mindy Friddle is author of the novels The Garden Angel (St. Martin's Press/Picador) and Secret Keepers, forthcoming from St.Martin's Press in May. Visit her website and blog, Novel Thoughts. Friend her on Facebook.