The Green Salad Thing

This column appeared in a recent edition of the Devils Lake Journal newspaper in my hometown of Devils Lake, North Dakota.

A few weeks ago I wrote about an episode of HGTV’s popular “Chopped Show” where one of the ingredients was lutefisk, which at least three of the four competitors had not heard of before and proved to be a challenge for them to prepare. Another episode of a cooking show called “My Grandmother’s Ravioli” recently caught my eye due to its ties to the upper Midwest, this time to Milles Lacs Lake in Minnesota where I worked at a restaurant for part of one summer when I was in college at the University of North Dakota.

Mo Rocca, a journalist who you may know as a contributor to the weekend news program CBS Sunday Morning, is the show’s host and introduces each program by saying he never learned to cook from his own grandmother (he is of Italian and Columbian descent), so now he is looking to learn from other people’s grandparents around the U.S. In the recent episode that I watched Rocca traveled to Milles Lacs Lake (the second largest lake in the land of 10,000 lakes) where he visited the (spectacular) lake home of Joenie Haas, who if you are a cooking show groupie will be interested to know is the mother-in-law of Andrew Zimmer, who hosts the Travel Channel series “Bizarre Foods.”

My Dad says he softens the cream cheese and mashes the pears.

My Dad says he softens the cream cheese and mashes the pears.

During the show Haas teaches Rocca, whose humor and engaging smile adds to the series charm, how to make her versions of two ubiquitous Midwestern dishes – Tater Tot Hot Dish and Jello Salad. During the introduction to the Jello Salad segment photos of some popular versions of the salad from back in the day were shown, including one that was a light, creamy green color and was formed in a round tube salad mold. It was the spitting image of a salad my maternal grandmother, Grandma B., served at Sunday dinners at my grandparents’ house in Oberon, North Dakota, when I was young. When I was living in the Washington, D.C. area in the 1990s, I was trying to create an Easter meal for my boyfriend at the time that would include some old family favorites. I found my grandmother’s recipe for a green salad, which includes lime Jello, cottage cheese, cream cheese and pears and decided to make it. I didn’t have a round tube mold so I just served it in a dish. I don’t remember what the then boyfriend thought about the concoction, but I relayed to my family that I had made Grandma B.’s recipe, calling it the Green Salad Thing. The family decided to revisit the dish, which had fallen off the holiday menu lineup, and at the next holiday
Simple but delicious. It's best to let it sit for awhile before serving.

Simple but delicious. It’s best to let it sit for awhile before serving.

gathering it was added to the menu and has been in the lineup ever since. It is usually made by Dad Fast Eddie who also often makes his tangy German Cabbage Salad.

I’ve seen just a few episodes of “My Grandmother’s Ravioli,” which has only aired for a couple of years, as it is on the Cooking Channel which isn’t part of my regular cable lineup. However, I think I would enjoy seeing more as I am all about preserving family food traditions, including the Green Salad Thing. Plus the grandparents on the show have lots wisdom and observation, and often humor, to share about not just food, but life itself.

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