Why do we cook what we cook: habit, tradition, boredom, convenience, media pressure, kale chips, really???
Food at its most basic is fuel, yet it has become more than that. Before food became an obsession, it was part of family celebrations, both happy and sad, served three times a day to family and friends, packed in lunch boxes and occasionally picnic hampers. It was part of our story, and later the dishes were done by women talking in the kitchen, sharing recipes and tips on how to deal with colicky babies, it was part of our story, but it was not the whole story. Food was a backdrop in the tapestry of our lives, part of the whole, like the rags in the rag rug, each piece of fabric was once something else. As a formerly trained cook, I was once guilty of being a food snob, I dangerously inflated the importance of what I did for a living, being able to make a perfect lemon tart, just wasn’t that important in the big picture of the world. And yet, food television for many is acceptable everyday porn, but to be honest, I’m sick of bacon, cupcakes and Hipsters who are covered in tattoos cooking pork belly everything like they’ve just discovered fire. Everything has been done before; from preserving to nose tail, it’s just, not new. (I have nothing against tattoos, but the novelty of the tattooed rebel chef whether male of female has worn off)
Yet, here I am writing about food, but not really, I want to look for and write about the stories and experiences that accompany the food, like a delicious side dish of scalloped potatoes, every dish helps to make a meal, and the meals shared or sometimes eaten alone, help to make the memories that make the stories. Stories that become part of our culture and ultimately our shared history, like jello-salads.
As a kid they were part of everything celebration; especially weddings and showers, I loved them, so many vivid colours and each one pretty with their marshmallows, cherries, sometimes celery and nuts. It has been written that “Jell-o brought together modernity and mothering at the same time as it promised women a creative outlet and escape from laborious tasks.” Tye, Diane, Baking as Biography, pub.2010, McGill-Queen’s University Press. This was true for the women in my family, they all worked, for various reasons, they had to, cooking was seen as a “laborious task,” and anything that made it easier and maybe even a bit special was a God send. We ate jell-o at least three times a week, it was an easy and quick dessert.
I made a jell-o salad this past weekend for our Easter dinner. I want to say that it was delicious and we loved it. But I can’t, it was too sweet and the texture was rubbery and soft, and the colour? Food should not be neon green with pink polka dots. And as a salad, it was a miserable “fail.” My palette has changed and what I really love are simple tastes and textures, is it more sophisticated? Maybe, but that doesn’t mean “better,” just different. I have the luxury of time and income to make different food choices that my Mom and Grandmother did. I probably won’t make one again, but making it did bring back childhood memories of stirring the jello with my grandmother as she added the hot water; but jell-o salads deserve to be mentioned as part of our shared culinary history, they were part of story if they were on the table.
Sea foam Salad
1 small package lime jell-o
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup cold water
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 250g. package of cream cheese (at room temperature)
1/2 bag mini marshmallows
1 small can crushed pineapple, drained
1/2 cup chopped nuts.
In a medium size bowl, combine the jelly powder with the hot water,the cold water and the lemon juice, stir to combine. In another bowl, stir the cream cheese until soft then pour in the jell-o, stir or whisk well to mix. Chill until partially set (about 2 hours) then mix in marshmallow, fruit and nuts. Pour into a serving bowl and chill until completely set.