Amid the hustle and bustle of setting the table for Thanksgiving, my son glances around the table and notices a missing key dish. He runs to the basement fridge to retrieve his favorite side dish. He slowly walks back upstairs and carefully holds the Mikasa crystal bowl with two hands and places it gingerly on the table. The light from the dining room fixture catches the cut glass edges on the bowl, and it practically sparkles.
Dinner may now be served.
About 20 years ago, I saw a recipe for a cranberry Jell-O in a magazine advertisement for Thanksgiving. The actual name in the ad is “Festive Cranberry Pineapple Salad.” The original ad and recipe are crinkled and stained but still tucked in my cookbook.
Still new at hosting this holiday, I thought I’d give it a try.
It’s not terribly difficult to make, but it takes time as there are several steps involving chilling and stirring. It includes raspberry Jell-O, whole berry cranberry sauce out of the can, crushed pineapple, and a diced apple. Nuts are optional. We’ve determined we prefer to not include nuts. Not because of diet or allergies, but more of a texture preference.
Jell-O molds or salads were popular in the 1970s and 80s when I was a kid. They were often featured in picnic or potluck dishes, but on most occasions, you could find a Jell-O mold, some creamy, some fruity, and even some with vegetables. They seem to have fallen out of favor in recent years, and I don’t see them as often.
I still enjoy even just plain Jell-O. Maybe it was because it was a prevalent dish at parties attached to pleasant memories or perhaps because it was in my mom’s arsenal of tools to cure what ails you.
My husband is a Thanksgiving purist and doesn’t like to sway from traditional foods or include variations of them.
He prefers jellied cranberries straight from the can with the lines created from the can still visible. He has been wary of my attempts to introduce new foods to the menu. When I merely suggested a pumpkin cheesecake instead of pie, it was flatly turned down. So the cranberry Jell-O could’ve easily gone the way of the pumpkin cheesecake, but as long as we also had the canned jellied version, the Jell-O was a welcome addition.
The cranberry Jell-O’s debut went well. I thought it needed dressing up, so I served it in a rarely used wedding present, a crystal Mikasa bowl. I’ve never served it in anything since then. Something a little different, but it paired well with Thanksgiving dinner.
I tucked the recipe away until the following year and was reminded each year to purchase the common ingredients, but ones I didn’t often have on hand. It was something I could make a day or two before other items, so it could be ready in the spare fridge, and so it began its regular rotation on the Thanksgiving menu. We often say it would be a good dish to have in the spring or summer, but we had not made it off-season until recently.
We made our first non-Thanksgiving batch in the spring of 2020.
Like everyone else, we were searching for new ways to entertain and distract us from the pandemic. We decided we would make a full Thanksgiving dinner for Easter that year. Fortunately, we were able to secure all the ingredients we needed to make our Jell-O. We smoked the turkey and had a more casual outside dinner, but the Jell-O was still served in the Mikasa bowl.
My teenage sons love this side dish and in the past few years, there are no leftovers. I love that we have a beloved family food. The recipe has been shared in collective cookbooks at school and brought to other families’ Thanksgiving dinners—although my sons tend to stake claim to it quickly so there isn’t much for others to try. I love that one of our wedding presents is used religiously. I love that this simple recipe brings us so much joy and anticipate that it will continue for years to come.
Festive Cranberry Pineapple Salad
1 can (20 oz.) crushed pineapple in juice, undrained
2 packages of 4-serving size or 1 package of 8-serving size Raspberry Jell-O (sugar-free works too)
1 can (16 oz.) whole berry cranberry sauce
1 medium apple, chopped
2/3 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1. Drain pineapple, reserving all of the juice in a 1-quart measuring cup. Remove 1 Tbsp. pineapple; set aside for garnish. Add enough cold water to reserved pineapple juice to measure 3 cups; pour into a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then remove from heat. Add to dry gelatin mixes in a medium bowl; stir for 2 min. until completely dissolved. Stir in cranberry sauce and stir until well-blended, about 2 minutes. Note: due to the presence of whole berries in the cranberry sauce, the gelatin mixture will not be smooth). Carefully, pour into a large bowl.
2. Refrigerate for 1-1/2 hours or until slightly thickened (consistency of unbeaten egg whites).
3. Stir in chopped apple, nuts, and remaining pineapple. Pour into a serving bowl.
4. Refrigerate 4 hours or until firm. Garnish with reserved pineapple or sliced apples just before serving.
Store leftovers in the refrigerator.