On Twitter, I see this pre-Thanksgiving tweet: My mom has confirmed that pink salad is already doing its refrigerator dance of delicious wrongness. #yay
Pink salad? Sounded foul, so I had to look it up. Turns out, it's actually a relative of a salad* that makes an mandatory appearance on my own family's holiday table. My mom calls it ambrosia salad. Both contain: pineapple chunks, mandarin oranges, marshmallows and coconut. Pink also contains canned cherry pie filling, sweetened condensed milk and Cool Whip, whereas ambrosia needs only sour cream and walnuts. I think pink salad sounds like an unholy mess of saccharine grossness. Just putting that out there.
It's funny how belovedly rigid a family's culinary traditions can become at the holidays. Our Thanksgiving menu never wavered. Turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes: obvious. Stuffing: steamed, and flavored only with margarine, onion, and celery, the three of which HAD TO BE BLENDED because my dad DID NOT WANT CHUNKS OF THINGS IN HIS STUFFING. Cranberry sauce: homemade. And honestly folks, I really do not understand the whole canned thing, because it only takes like 15 minutes to make. Three ingredients. Minimal supervision. Really. We're talking petit filet vs. cat food here. I can only assume that some people prefer the taste of cat food.
Of course, things change between generations. We never had pumpkin pie in my childhood home. I don't remember what we had at Thanksgiving, apple or cherry or grape (yes grape, it is wonderful), but I do know that the first time I had pumpkin pie, probably at a friend's house, it was a revelation. Also, bonus, it is way easier to make. Choosing pumpkin for my holiday menu was a no brainer.
And then children grow up and start families of their own, developing their own holiday menus through the merging of heritages or by willful experimentation and a fresh copy of the Food & Wine holiday edition. In my brother's home, stuffing may be the dish that falls by the wayside, as his wife and children do not care for it, and he does not care to eat an entire loaf of bread by himself. I got lucky, since the lovely man I married hails from another country, and has adopted both Thanksgiving and my mother's traditional menu with frightful zeal. Sure, we've tweaked things a little by way of Food Network, but the standards are still there, like the ambrosia salad currently chilling in our fridge.
Tomorrow, far from our families like so many other young adults around the country, we will be sitting down to give thanks and overindulge with four friends, all of whom are native Swedes. One of them was eager to host and make the turkey this year, and she asked my advice on what ought to be on the menu.
I was happy to give her an authoritative American list.
Happy Thanksgiving! Let's all take a moment to appreciate the good things in our lives, like mom's pink salad and everything it stands for.
*I use salad here in the Midwestern sense, where the only requirements are that it is served cold and made with at least a whisper of fruit or vegetable.