Lime Jell-O salad, other secrets

Out of the woods

Posted: Thursday, December 21, 2000

Shopping lists are crumpled in sweaty hands, it's late, we're all in the grocery store. Finally, there is the special holiday display, like a green bean shrine, on the end of an aisle. We all just stand there in a semicircle, staring for a moment. There are some things that are just hard to cross off a list, if you know what I mean.

As we all shop for and prepare our family's traditional meals, we accept the craziest things. Is there any other time of the year when you would bring such bad food into your home? No. Why do you do it now? Because it's what Grandma used to make. She put marshmallows on yams already whipped with brown sugar. She made gravy from about a quart of the fat that cooked out of the turkey and ladled it over your buttered potatoes. Her stuffing, made out of bread, celery tops and herbs, also expected gravy. (I need to tell you about the Jello salad, but not until the children leave the room. All clear? Lime Jello mixed up with onions, cucumber and mayonnaise. Completely not digestible.) Candied carrots on the side, deviled eggs and Grandma's Waldorf salad (apples, celery, raisins, walnuts, swimming in mayo). Don't forget dessert pumpkin pie made with eggnog and whipped cream on top. Wait, you gotta have pecan pie, too! Have a little piece of both! OK.

We do all this because we really love it. We miss Grandma. I called my sister last night to find out which side of the family the green Jello thing came from. She didn't remember, but we figured it had to be Pop's side, the same place the wilted lettuce came from. Then we recited all the bowls Grandma and Mom used each year for particular dishes. The green olives that no one liked were in one of the little cut glass bowls, same with the tiny gherkins and the cranberry sauce. There were always those red spiced apple rings, but we couldn't place them in the proper serving dish. She brought up the wishbone. You know how the turkey wishbone is carefully removed from the carcass and hung up in the kitchen like a Pagan offering? Weeks later, probably full of e-coli or salmonella, it is quietly tossed because no one wants to touch it to wish on it.

One thing my sister and I both remembered, was the moment when we couldn't eat any more and would tell Mom. She would admonish us to "think of all the starving children. Now clean your plate." OK.

My sister has a high-dollar idea here, so think about it. She says we could hire out to perform a needed holiday dinner service. Just before the meal is ready, we would show up at your home to serve it. We would dish out modest, reasonable portions. Then, while everyone is eating, we would hurry to pack all the remaining food into a hundred small containers and quickly put them in the freezer. Ready for pie? Just a small piece? Here you go. Then, like lightening, all the rest is cut up, wrapped and whisked out of sight. Done. You, the family, can enjoy the evening without having to eat the second and third plateloads of your wonderful holiday fare, but know it is there in your freezer for future dinners. How much would you pay for that? I would consider it a mission of mercy.

I know, I'm stalling. Back at the bean display. Canned green beans, check. Mushroom soup, check. With a big effort, the French fried onions (sort of the cotton candy of the vegetable world, eh?), check. I really don't like the bean thing, but it's tradition. Now, excuse me, I have to beat all these people to the bakery for the pecan pie.

Nita Nettleton may be reached at

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