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.