My mom makes no secret that she is not an enthusiastic cook.
Growing up, she kept us well fed (“well fed” is an extreme understatement; she kept the neighborhood and even strangers on the street well fed to the point of bursting). But in the kitchen she was neither experimental nor adventurous.
She has a large handful of dishes that have become favorites of different members of the family. Mine? Potato salad, of course. The Kid adores her chicken fried steak and asks for it for every celebration where they get the pick of the menu. My little brother could happily dine solely on her stuffed chicken breasts for the rest of his life. My father loves her pecan pie — it’s his birthday confection every year.
And of course, anyone who tries them becomes instant acolytes of her frosted Christmas cookies.
Also, growing up, we went to seemingly never-ending potluck dinners. Church, neighborhood, Coast Guard-related, you name it, all organizations to which we as a family belonged had regular, frequent potlucks.
So, my mother had to come up with a repertoire of recipes that were appropriate to carry to clubhouses, church basements, and any other assorted rooms where folks gathered with covered dishes.
I know Gentle Raeder, it sounds disgusting. But it’s delicious and refreshing. It’s a gelatin dish with lime jello, canned pears, cream cheese, and Dream Whip, a whipped cream product that comes in a box and is mixed with milk.
It’s not slimy at all, but my little brother named it during the “slime” craze. Slime was a slimy sort of play-doh product that was acid green and came packaged in an acid green trash can.
What can I say. It was the ‘70s.
Of course, I loved her her potato salad, which is what I also take to the infrequent potlucks I now attend.
And then, her showstopper, her fruit salad. She’d slice a pineapple in half, length-wise, and hollow it out. She then mix the now chopped pineapple, canned mandarin oranges, strawberries, and banana slices. She would then toss it all in a large amount of her favorite shelf stable Dream Whip.
Then the sliced pineapple would be filled with the “salad.”
Other potluckers were always impressed, and the pineapple shells were always eaten clean.
The funny thing was we were living in Puerto Rico when she began making the salad, but never used any of the abundant tropical fruits that literally grew on trees all over the place. My mom’s a child of the ‘50s and just loves supermarkets and box mixes.
My aunt used to work at a wondrous farm stand that had grown into a huge market, Delicious Orchards. It was a Whole Foods/Fresh Market/Foster’s Market kind of place. They had gorgeous, gourmet foods of every stripe.
In the bakery they made this cheesecake that was topped with a sour cream layer. It was sour cream, but lightly sweetened, with the tang still a big part of the flavor.
So I decided to remake mom’s salad and combine it with a dressing featuring that sour cream kick.
Fruit Medley with Bourbon Brown Sugar Cream
When you make this, use the fruits that you like. Buy what’s in season at the farmer’s market, or go retro and get strictly supermarket fair. I’ll share what I used in my most recent salad (I still use the canned mandarin oranges — they warm the heart of my 10-year-old self).
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Bourbon
Pinch of salt
Whisk together dressing ingredients and refrigerate for at least an hour for brown sugar to fully dissolve and flavors to meld.
1 1/2 cup frozen peaches, cut up into bite-size pieces
1 small can mandarin oranges, drained
1 1/2 cup blueberries
1 1/2 cup blackberries
1/2 cup whole pecans toasted in butter, salted, and cooled
Toss ingredients together.
Place salad on individual dessert plates and drizzle on dressing. Serves 6-8.
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