Fall holidays are becoming a blur. Halloween candy hits the shelves in September. Christmas movies begin their marathons before Halloween. If it weren't for Charlie Brown and football, Thanksgiving might go unnoticed. However, we can't let Thanksgiving slip by, because it's the one holiday that truly centers around family, our roots, and showing our children that sometimes those roots grew just a bit on the crazy side!
When you think of Thanksgiving, two things come to mind: crazy relatives and weird food. If you take down the photo album and take away the posed pictures and studio portraits of senior class pictures, dance recitals, and 7th grade football team pictures, you find the real memories. Where is the picture of Great Grandma Jane with her fork halfway up to her open mouth, her other hand waving the camera away wildly. What about the picture of Granny Mattie with the construction paper pilgrim hat perched precariously on her head as she sat at the piano banging out her rendition of “Roll Out the Barrel”? Oops! Mom's glaring at the camera in that picture!
As the pages turn, more memories pour out, bringing fresh gales of laughter. There's the picture of Uncle Ross in his plaid pants with the cousins in their leisure suits. Another picture shows all the kids gathered around snoring Uncle J.D. trying not to laugh as they cover him with candy corn turkeys. Finally, there you are, sitting on Paw Paw Rob's lap as he grins and points his finger at you. (Everyone knows the dog is about to be blamed for something!) You, your brothers, sisters, and cousins all swore, if you ever got married, you'd spend Thanksgiving with your in-laws.
Then came the pictures of the sideboard and the card table, covered with an assortment of weird entrees, each year's selection even more bizarre than the last. Many of them featured ingredients that were never intended to come together in an edible dish, yet there they were, usually suspended in Jell-O.
Sitting between the green bean casserole and the sweet potatoes was Aunt Lillian's “Ring Around the Tuna,” made up of tuna, lime Jell-O, and mayonnaise. Next to it was the “Turkey Dish,” made up of individual layers of turkey, peas, and shredded carrots, encased in clear gelatin and chilled in a Jell-O mold. Then there was the Cranberry Surprise, Pears and Cream Cheese dish (lime Jell-O, pears, and cream cheese-ICK!), and Frozen Cheese Salad (with cheese, chicken, whipped cream, olives, and a mayonnaise dressing).
One dish, Ambrosia Salad, is still served today. A mixture of shredded coconut, mandarin oranges, pineapples, maraschino cherries, bananas, marshmallows, and either cream cheese, sour cream, or cottage cheese, you either love it or hate it. Either way, it always went faster than the Prune Whip.
Oddly enough, Jell-O mold dishes are making a comeback. Some are reminiscent of those of old. However, where our old timey Cranberry Surprise consisted of cranberry sauce, sugar, and mayonnaise, today's Cranberry Mold is made of strawberry Jell-O, cranberries, and pineapples. Sissies! Orange Sherbert Jell-O without mayonnaise? Lightweights!
Every year, participants bring either their take on “vintage” recipes using the same ingredients as “the grandmas,” or they use those ingredients to create new ones. The winners of each category get to take home the coveted Pepto Bismal trophy and bragging rights for the year, then bring it back next Thanksgiving to see if they can remain Gelatin Champ!
Just as all Thanksgivings gone before, someone will take pictures of your sister with a fork halfway up to her open mouth, your cousin looking silly playing some computer game, and someone's husband asking a little one to pull his finger. There will also be plenty of vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, and very carnivorous dishes for future generations to laugh at as well. After all, Pumpkin Jell-O Shots, with pureed pumpkin, condensed milk, gelatin, and rum? Don’t forget your Tums or Pepto Bismal! Happy Thanksgiving!