Some years back, Claire Eddy came over to spend Thanksgiving with us, and while I was cooking she got to browsing through my family’s cookbook. It’s just a little spiral-bound thing my mother and my Aunt Ruth Ann Crandall put together after collecting favorite recipes from everyone in the family. As an artifact, I’m very fond of it.
Claire’s people were Hell’s Kitchen Irish Catholics for I don’t know how many generations. She’s a Manhattan girl, and to her, everything in my family cookbook was exotic. So was the Queen Creek Relief Society Cookbook. Claire kept flipping through them, looking more and more bemused. Finally, she burst out, “What is it with all the marshmallows?”
I’ve had a lot of time to think about it since then. What I’d say now is that Intermountain West Mormon cooking classifies marshmallows as a vegetable or fruit, depending on the dish in which they occur. Then, I could only shrug helplessly, and say I’d asked myself the same question a lot of times when I was growing up.
Back then I was also taught to make candle salad, only we dipped our bananas in Dream Whip and rolled them in crushed cornflakes before placing them upright in their pineapple rings and sticking half of a red maraschino cherry onto the tip. It takes a very, very clean mind to think that up.
Every year, I get into a misunderstanding at St. Augustine’s Pentecost parish potluck picnic. It goes like this: Partly on account of the Pentecost speaking-in-tongues thing, and partly because St. A’s has a polyglot congregation, with services in English, Spanish, and Haitian Kreol, and a parish bulletin that looks like the Rosetta Stone, Father Bob always encourages everyone to bring the food of their native land. This works out to ten or twenty variations on rice and beans, something involving short ribs in a reddish sauce, a big pan of that yummy Philippine cold noodle thing, and me with my strawberry jello fruit salad. If you want ethnic, it’s that or Funeral Potatoes; and the bright red jello looks nice for Pentecost.
The problem is that every year I absentmindedly put myself down for a salad on the sign-up sheet, and every year the ladies of St. Augustine’s take one look at what I’ve brought and declare it a dessert.This would never happen back home. It’s jello, which is understood to qualify as salad until proven otherwise. It has fruit in it, over 50% by volume, which is also understood to have the salad nature. And it doesn’t contain coconut, Cool Whip, miniature marshmallows, or instant pudding mix, which in Zion is practically austere. The following are all considered salads:
Quick and Creamy Fruit SaladAlso:
2 14-oz. cans fruit saladPour all the fruit into a strainer and drain for at least two hours. Put the instant pudding and buttermilk in a bowl and mix well. Add the Cool Whip and mix again. Fold in fruit. Chill for at least one hour before serving.
2 cans mandarin orange segments
1 can pineapple tidbits
8 oz. Cool Whip
1 c. buttermilk
1 small pkg. instant vanilla pudding
1 4-ounce pkg. instant pistachio pudding mixDrain pineapple, reserving 4 T. of the juice. Mix the instant pudding with the pineapple juice. Mix in pineapple, marshmallows, and nuts, then add the Cool Whip. Refrigerate. Best if made overnight.
1 20-oz. can crushed pineapple
1 c. miniature marshmallows
1/2 c. chopped nuts
8 oz. Cool Whip
Orange Sherbet SaladAlso:
3-oz pkg orange gelatinDissolve gelatin in boiling water and chill to egg white consistency. Whip with beater and fold in whipped cream. Add sherbet and remaining ingredients. Chill until ready to serve.
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup whipped cream
1/2 pint orange sherbet, softened
1/2 cup mandarin oranges, drained
1/2 cup crushed pineapple, drained
Mormon Pioneer Salad 1 cup whipping cream2. Confusion I won’t give the whole recipe for Yam, Apple, and Cranberry Crisp; I’ll just note that the family cookbook says it can be served as a side dish during dinner, or served afterward as a dessert. If an anthropologist asked me the difference, I’d say that it would be improper to put Cool Whip on top of it if it were being served as a vegetable. But really, the biggest source of confusion is that you can do things with jello that ought not be possible.
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 c. vinegar
leaf lettuce, torn
Whip the cream with the sugar and salt until the mixture begins to thicken. Stir in the vinegar and then toss with torn lettuce. Makes about 1 1/2 cups dressing for the lettuce.
Pretzel Jello 3 c. thin pretzelsAlso:
3/4 c. margarine
16 oz. cream cheese
2 c. sugar
2 pkg. Dream Whip
6 oz. strawberry gelatin powder
2 c. pineapple juice
2 c. frozen strawberries
Chop or coarsely grind pretzels and mix with 3/4 c. melted margarine. Press into a 9”×12” pan and bake for 10 minutes at 400 F. Let cool. Cream sugar together with cream cheese. Spread over pretzel crust. Whip two packages of Dream Whip and spread over the cheese mixture, reserving 1/2 cup for decoration. Heat pineapple juice to boiling and dissolve Jello powder into it. Mix in 2 c. frozen strawberries and keep stirring. When the mixture begins to jell, spoon it on top of the layers in the pan. Decorate with remaining Dream Whip when fully set. Keep refrigerated.
Jello Plum Pudding (a Christmas dessert)3. Classics
1 pkg. cherry JelloPour boiling water over Jello. When it has dissolved, add Grape-Nuts and let stand about five minutes. Stir in all the other ingredients and refrigerate until very firm. Serve with lemon sauce or whipped cream.
3/4 c. Grape-Nuts
3/4 c. raisins
3/4 c. cooked prunes
3/4 c. candied orange peel
3/4 c. chopped nuts
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
2 c. boiling water
a pinch of salt
I’m missing a recipe for a Mormon classic: potato salad. I know, I know—everybody makes potato salad. Ours is different. My friend Mike Farren didn’t know his family was Mormon until he ate my mother’s potato salad and identified it as the same distinctive recipe he’d only previously known his aunt to make. He started asking around. Turned out there’d been some kind of kerfluffle in the previous generation, and his entire family had left the church and never talked about it afterward. But the potato salad remained.
Maybe Mom will send me her recipe. She makes the best. It’s right up there with Uncle John’s baked goods and Aunt Gay’s fresh peach ice cream.
As for the rest of these recipes—well, you know that thing where you add cream of mushroom soup to the string beans, then take canned onion rings and either stir them in, or sprinkle them in a layer on top? These recipes are like that. They’ll never make you brag about your culinary technique, but they will assuredly get eaten.
Missionary Dessert (also known as “Bishop’s Dessert”, for no very good reason)And, unavoidably:
1 large can fruit pie fillingDrain pineapple. Mix with fruit pie filling. (Optionally: just use two cans of fruit pie filling.) Spread it in the bottom of a sheet cake pan. Spread the dry cake mix evenly on top of it. Sprinkle the nuts on the cake mix. Take the melted butter and thinly drizzle it all over the top of the cake mix. Bake at 350 F. for 45-60 minutes. Let cool before serving.
1 large can crushed pineapple
1 boxed cake mix
2 sticks butter or margarine
1 c. chopped nuts
Funeral Potatoes (simple)Also:
2 tbsp. melted butterDump everything in a bowl, mix thoroughly, cover, and bake at 350 F. in a greased 9”×13” pan for 45-60 minutes.
1 can cream of chicken soup
1-1/2 lb. frozen hash browned potatoes (shredded are best)
1 c. sour cream
4 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
Funeral Potatoes (classic)And that’s that. Bless all the people who weren’t here this time that they may be here next time amen.
6-8 potatoes, cooked, peeled, and grated or cubedSpread potatoes in a buttered casserole dish. Heat soup, sour cream, and onion in sauce pan, then pour over potatoes, but DO NOT STIR. Sprinkle cheese on top if you’re Aunt Marilyn Crandall; if you’re Julie Nielsen, mix the cheese, butter, and cornflakes together, and then sprinkle them on top. Bake at 350 F. for 30 minutes.
1/2 c. minced onion
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 pint sour cream
1/2 c. grated cheese
3/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. melted butter
1 c. crushed cornflakes