It has come to my attention that there is a little confusion over what exactly a salad is. I have always thought of it as lettuce with maybe some cucumbers or tomatoes punctuating the leaves, and then dressing like ranch or thousand island doused on top. It’s a straightforward, healthy(ish) dish whose presence on your plate cancels out the less-than-nutritious properties of pizza or hamburger. As long as there’s a little green, you’re good to go ahead and eat the entire sheet of lasagna. The same principle applies to fruit, and that’s why it’s OK to eat an entire bucket of fried chicken as long as you chase it with a shot of apple butter.
My grandmother saw things differently. Her definition of a salad was a tad more southern.
When I think back on the meals I spent at my maternal grandparents’ table in rural Tennessee, I cannot remember one single garden variety (heh) salad I ever consumed there. I know that they were there because I always referred to ranch dressing as “Mama Rodgie dressing” when I was a kid, and I only used ranch on salads back then. But that elusive crisp dish has effectively been eliminated from my memory. All I remember was Mama Rodgie’s treasured salad that my cousins and I lovingly called The Pink Stuff.
The term “salad” was bandied around freely when my family defined the nomenclature of this dish, but salad it was not. The only resemblance it had to its healthier cousins was that it was served cold. I don’t have the recipe and I don’t know if any of my family members do either, but I would venture a guess that it consisted of Cool Whip, jarred maraschino cherries, the juice of said cherries, canned pineapple, and gelatin to give it a firmer texture.
There are a few reasons why The Pink Stuff could not have possibly been a salad. The first is empirical: there was absolutely nothing in it that even nodded at the concept of health-conscientiousness or freshness. In their pre-industrialized life, the cherries and other fruit chunks that could be found in it had been healthy, but once jarred and canned in sugary syrup, they gave up that ghost.
Another reason that it could not have been a salad was that I only remember the kids of the family eating it. Everyone knows that salads were invented by adults to put a damper on their offspring’s mealtimes. The adult love of salads is only matched by the childhood hatred of them. Yet all my cousins and I loved The Pink Stuff and never saw an adult it eat. Thus, it could not have been a salad.
Finally, it could not have been a salad because we never ate it as an appetizer or as a side dish. It was relegated to the land of dessert and we only got to dollop it into Mama Rodgie’s ice cream bowls if we finished our pot roast and mashed potatoes. Seriously, has any one ever been bribed to finish the near-perfect dish that is sour cream mashed potatoes? And even if they had, would the best tool of bribery be a salad? I thinketh not.
I think back on that
dessert salad and I miss my grandmother a lot. I am reminded that the only person in the world who can get away with feeding children sweets disguised as healthy morsels of plant matter are grandparents, and that is what makes them so special.
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