Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Memories of Thanksgivings Past: 7-Up Salad

My mother (who, it must be acknowledged, is a very good cook) has a philosophy of cooking that is very different from my own, and just as most of my Thanksgiving dinner never repeats, hers almost never varies. Surely most cooks are the same way: while you frequently hear "What smells so good?" when a guest arrives at Thanksgiving, no one really has to ask "What's for dinner?"

When you sat down at my mother's Thanksgiving table, you could count on seeing roast turkey, bread stuffing (always the same bread stuffing), mashed potatoes (which were really whipped potatoes because Mom would not, could not abide lumps in her mashed potatoes), candied yams (canned yams covered with butter and some sort of syrup and then baked and topped with mini marshmallows; it's the sort of thing that as a child I would eat only for my mother -- because she was the only one cruel enough to make me choke it down), green bean casserole, 7-Up salad, cranberry sauce (oh yes my friends: from a can; Mom sliced it crossways to make little disks that would have made excellent projectiles if only we'd dared), gravy, and the relish tray (sweet gherkins, green olives with pimientos, black olives from a can, celery sticks stuffed with cream cheese).

Not only did Mom make the same thing every year, she served the same things in the same serving dishes so that when I think about candied yams (though I try very hard not to), I always picture the 8.5x4.5 Pyrex loaf pan that she would bake and serve them in. Similarly, the 7-Up salad was always poured into, and unmolded from, the same mold.

If you were to google "7-Up salad," you would find that in many, if not most, recipes, it is not made in a mold at all. It is some sort of bi-layer affair that is produced in a 9x13 pan and whose top layer involves the cooking of some sort of juice with an egg and some flour. This, friends, is not what my mother made. My mother's recipe (and here I have to admit that I am a bad, bad son because I have gotten this recipe from her no fewer than three times over the past fifteen years, and each time I get it, I somehow manage to lose it, and even though two or three copies of it are probably floating around a box in my basement somewhere, I could not now lay my hands on it; also, I don't telephone nearly enough, apparently) involved pineapple and pecans and lime jell-o (but you can substituted strawberry or raspberry jell-o at Easter time because, so Mom says, that is much more springlike) and cream cheese and ginger ale, but it most certainly did not involve either an egg or two tablespoons of flour.

Did I say ginger ale? Why, yes, I did. I am certain that for all the years I saw her making her 7-Up salad, she never used 7-Up. So we know that she was really, at best, making ginger ale salad and misnaming it. We also know that she wasn't even using a 7-Up salad recipe; she was using some other recipe entirely.

Now this may not seem like a big deal to you, but if you can't trust what your own mother put on the dining room table at Thanksgiving, then what can you trust? What other lies did my parents tell me? Am I supposed to now understand that I was neither delivered by the stork nor found under a cabbage leaf (and, really, folks: let's get our stories straight because, upon being challenged with an obvious inconsistency, looking uncomfortable and then saying that the stork either left me or found me under a cabbage leaf is frankly pathetic)? Am I supposed instead to understand that my parents created me the old fashioned way? Because, I'm telling you, that is a thought entirely too unpleasant to be contemplated. Spontaneous generation from a cabbage is an altogether more pleasant way to have come into existence, though I suppose that it would technically make eating cole slaw cannibalism, which would present me with an unfortunate moral/culinary (as if there were a difference between morality and cuisine) dilemma.

Anyway. 7-Up salad was always one of the big hits of the Thanksgiving table. You will of course be entirely reasonable (commendable, even) if you turn up your nose at jell-o salad as a necessary ingredient of the Thanksgiving table, but you'll have to trust me when I say that Mom's 7-Up salad (albeit a big fat lie, apparently) was some seriously good stuff. A large part of its appeal is that it's essentially a dessert, but it gets served as a side dish during the main part of the meal (it was simply unfathomable after one of my mother's extremely ample Thanksgiving dinners to proceed directly from the meal to dessert), I suppose, but whatever the reason, I always had seconds.

I haven't made 7-Up salad for a number of years, but I am going to make it this year. I have not yet decided whether to change the name. Balancing truth and tradition is a tricky thing, and since my own children are currently 16 and 9, I'm not sure that I want to tip my hand about the whole honesty thing. I rarely, if ever, lie to the girls, but there is always the chance that I'll need to tell a fib or two for the sake of convenience or to spare someone's feelings, and if that becomes necessary, I need to maintain credibility. I have not yet decided whether renaming or not renaming better supports the current policy of plausible deniability.

In either case, I'm going to have to make up my own recipe this time because I'm just too embarrassed to ask Mom for it yet again. I do, however, have a pretty good idea where she keeps the recipe, and if I ever get down to Florida to see them in their house there, I can probably get them out of the house and search for it while they're gone. Desperate times, desperate measures, and all that, you know.


Anonymous lindy said...

Yum. As to that wild mushroom bread pudding, all I can say is, "shut up!"
Actually, I think that as a shout of approval, this can be attributed, in the original, to Little Richard. (His heyday was even before my time, as I was not really conscious of him as a 5 year old.)

6:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is sooooo funny i am writting a paper for school i have to write it on a food my family always has at special events and 7-up salad is it no matter what we always make it i think that your my brother or something cause i swear i been at your thanksgiving table the past 19 years any way just thought id say good job lol

1:26 PM  

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