Grit Blogs > Joy in the Journey

A Step toward Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner

By Jennifer Nemec


Tags: holiday, cooking, JELL-O,

This year, for the first time in recent memory, I have been tasked with bringing something to Thanksgiving dinner. When I announced this in our staff meeting last week, everyone was quite impressed, until I told them I was making the two JELL-O/Cool Whip–related salads that we always have at a Nemec family holiday dinner.

One year we only had one of the two, and my little brother (not so little anymore) just couldn't handle it. So, these two must be there. The names are what we call them, and I'll have to check with Mom to find out from whence they came. (I'm pretty sure I remember the first time we had the apricot one, but the cherry seems to have always been a staple.)

The first we call "Apricot Salad," which is a bit of a misnomer, because it's not very "salad-y." It's made with only 3 ingredients: apricot JELL-O (1 package), apricot nectar (2 cups – I found this in the juice aisle at a local grocery store), and cream cheese (1 brick, 8 oz., softened).

The nectar takes the place of water in the directions on the JELL-O package. First heat one cup of the nectar and then dissolve the JELL-O in it.  Place the softened cream cheese in a medium-sized bowl, and then with a whisk (or an egg beater), slowly add the nectar mixture to the cream cheese. Then add the additional cup of nectar in a similar manner. (If you find it too sweet, you can switch out some of the nectar for water.)

This salad turns out differently depending on how earnestly you wisk/stir the creamcheese into the JELL-O. If you're a bit lackadaisical, you end up with slightly creamy JELL-O with a cottage-cheese-looking topping. If you are more serious about getting the lumps out, the whole thing turns into creamy goodness – though don't go too far, or you'll end up with foam on top. All of these versions taste great, and I'm pretty sure my brother prefers the cottage-cheese-y version.

The second salad (which my brother's been making lately) is the "Pink Fluff." This one is even easier, because you don't have to heat anything up. In this one you have a can of cherry pie filling (my dad's favorite), a can of crushed pineapple (don't get the "in syrup" kind), a can of sweetened condensed milk, and a container of whipped topping. Drain the pineapple juice (into a glass -- yum), then mix it, the cherry pie filling, and the condensed milk together in a rather big bowl. When those three are good and combined, slowly fold in the whipped topping. (This is where you can get in trouble with this one, when "folding" becomes "beating" you end up with a soupy mess.)

Most of my family eats these as "dessert" rather than with the meal, and a little goes a long way. When the pink fluff and turkey sandwiches are gone, it's time to head home.

When I was in college, I had a nightmare that involved my boyfriend taking me home to his family Thanksgiving and his mother asking me to make the gravy as a test... I woke up screaming.

Since then, I've advanced (much more than I let on). I can make many wonderful meals in my wok, I love quinuoa, and I'm learning more every day. I likely won't be involved in the turkey basting process this year (or maybe ever, one of my brothers has a restaurant management degree and is pretty territorial about the bird), but . . . I made the salads.

kc compton_2
1/21/2009 1:09:33 PM

Hey, Jenn -- I want one of your quinoa recipes! I bought some a few weeks ago and it is just sitting on my kitchen shelf, staring balefully as I pass it by for pasta. What do I do with it now that I've got it? I understand it is powerfully nutritious and actually great-tasting, but other than just boiling it with salt, I'm not sure how to treat it. --KC


becky and andy
12/15/2008 4:11:54 PM

Jenn, Very amusing post. I always said that I could cook just fine as long as it came from a box. Then I met Andy, professional chef extraordinaire and through our years of marriage, he's been slowly rubbing off on me. For instance, just Saturday, I made ALL THREE MEALS for my family and only one came from a box! :-) My mom stopped over and smelled some homemade bread and a concoction of creamy lentil soup I'd made up and commented that she was so proud of how "domestic" I'd become. I was sincerely thrilled to hear a compliment like that! (had this been five years ago...probably wouldn't have been taken as a compliment...I was not of the homesteader mindset at that time!) Jenn, it was so nice to meet and spend time with you and the staff a couple weeks ago. Andy and I really felt like we clicked with you especially. We look forward to continued correspondence with you over the years! Becky


jeanne-marie
11/28/2008 11:17:44 AM

It is funny how we all have expectations about what the holiday meals are to be. This year my brother made mashed potatoes and added onions. Now usually we run out of spuds on the table but... there was a HUGE amount left over. There you go don't mess with traditions. :) Hope you had a great day with your TWO jello salads!


cindy murphy
11/28/2008 8:59:06 AM

Hi, Jenn. Parts of your blog made me chuckle; I'm also one of those people who is a much better cook than I let on. I love to cook.....when I have time. But my time is often as lacking as my culinary expertise...or the self-perpetuated myth I've created surrounding my lack of cooking abilities. It's all a long running joke, really, and my co-workers and friends play along, although there might be some raised eyebrows if I told them I was assigned to bring a dish to Thanksgiving dinner...unless it was a salad. I always bring the salad.