Saturday, June 30, 2012
Oh hell-o, Jell-o
When I go home to Georgia, it just takes about 20 minutes before mom starts pushing the congealed salad.
“You want some?” she said with her hand on the fridge door at half past midnight. I had just made the five-hour drive from Nashville.
Then the next morning for breakfast she asked again: “You want some congealed salad?”
Though she calls it salad, other people might call it dessert. It’s made from seafoam green gelatin with tiny lumps of creamed cheese, celery, canned pineapple, and nuts. Jiggly and loaded with kooky texture, it’s a food that manages to feel like the future and the past. It’s outer spacey, yet it’s like those green lunchroom cafeteria trays or the mints at wedding receptions in church Fellowship Halls.
Mom makes it because my grandmother made it. And it’s the food that everyone spends the first several years of life totally hating. So part of the appeal, I believe, lies in bonding over the fact that we went from being grossed out by it to loving it. We showed our version off to my boyfriend by slicing up big squares of it and raving. “Let me get you a Ritz cracker to go with it,” Mom said to him, because that’s a normal breakfast combo. And then Dad took it to the next level by plopping a dollop of Miracle Whip on top. That’s how Mema used to do it!
Mom says she can’t remember a time when my grandmother didn’t make congealed salad – mostly for church potlucks. My grandparents owned a small lumber and hardware business, and with two children they stayed busy. She could make congealed salad quickly by dumping a few things into a casserole dish and sticking it in the fridge. Mom also remembers a pivotal moment around age 8 when she realized that she liked it, and she ate it for three days straight with a friend who was staying over the weekend.
After my square for breakfast, I asked for the recipe for the first time. But when I got back to Nashville, I realized that it’s not the congealed salad I want in my house. I want congealed salad at my mom’s house. Plus, I feel like it’s her time to make it like it was my grandmother’s time before her. Someday I figure I’ll make it too. Just not yet.