Thanksgiving is a time that can bring out the best and the worst in people. There’s a reason why there are so many Thanksgiving movies and Thanksgiving episodes of TV shows where family dynamics explode before the turkey hits the table. It can be a pretty stressful time. Between the forced family reunions, the blaring of football on TV, the preparation of a week’s worth of food in a day, and the eating of said food in record time, things can get a little hectic.
But it’s also a time for traditions. Yes, there’s turkey and sweet potatoes and stuffing and gravy, but every home, every family adapts their Thanksgiving meal by adding foods from their national backgrounds or dishes that someone made many years before and somehow stuck or using preparations and ingredients that are more prevalent where they live. There are as many variations of Thanksgiving dishes as there are pieces to the American quilt of immigrants and their descendants.
Steve’s family has its own tradition for the Thanksgiving dinner table. It’s called under-the-sea salad. And it’s as gloriously trashy as you can get. The ingredients alone are enough to give you an idea: lime Jello, cream cheese, canned pears, and a pinch of ground cloves (which is what Steve always calls the “secret ingredient”). It’s not Thanksgiving for Steve unless the under-the-sea salad is on the table. And don’t even try to tell him that it’s dessert. No, it’s a salad, he and his family will insist.
Truth be told, it’s absolutely delicious. Is it as artificial as our new president’s hair? Absolutely. But it’s tart and sweet and cuts right through the heaviness of the turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes that are piled on your plate. Do I think you’ll all run out and buy the ingredients to make it? Absolutely not. But this coming Thursday, it will be jiggling its neon green dome right in the middle of our Thanksgiving dinner table. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
2 3oz packages of lime jello
1 8oz package of cream cheese
1 28oz can of pears in syrup (or two 14.5oz cans)
A heavy pinch of ground cloves
In a large bowl prepare the jello per the package instructions but use 1/4 of a cup less water than the instructions call for. Set aside to let it cool a little while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Drain the pears very well and put them in a second large bowl along with the cream cheese. Using a fork or potato masher, mash the pears and cream cheese together thoroughly. Add the warm jello liquid and the cloves, stir well and pour in your favorite mould (if you don’t have a mould, you can use a metal mixing bowl). Put in the fridge and let it chill until firm.
When ready to serve, fill a very large bowl that the mould can fit in with hot tap water. Dip the bottom and sides of the mould in the hot water, careful not to get any water inside the mould, for 20-25 seconds. This will allow the salad to detach from the sides of the mould. Run the tip of a sharp knife around the top edge of the mould to help with with releasing the salad.
Place a large serving platter on top of the mould and quickly flip it to release the salad. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.