For as long as I can remember, the holidays began with the sound of a blender whirring. I think we only used our blender twice a year, once in November and once in December, and I think we only had it so my mom could make her cranberry salad at Thanksgiving and Christmas. That faithful blender still whirs to this day, after more than 25 years of service to the cranberry salad… probably because it only gets used those two times a year.
The recipe’s origin is a mystery, and like many of the best recipes, started on a hand-written index card. Until recently my mom always said the recipe came to her from her dear friend Brenda… but then just last year Brenda served my mom some cranberry salad, and my mom said, “That’s not your cranberry salad.” Brenda maintained that it most certainly was, and she’d always made it that way, but it looked nothing like my mom’s cranberry salad. So who knows from whence the recipe came? No matter; it’s ours now.
My mom has been making the salad for as long as either of us can remember. She recalls me “helping” with the salad even when I was a toddler; she would sit me on the counter and I would drop the cranberries into the blender for her. In later years my favorite part was always the Jello – what kid doesn’t love that moment when you add in the Jello powder to the water and some of it goes into the air, making every breath you take taste sweet?
At some point during my childhood, we added The Lucky Almond, an homage to one of my favorite Christmas stories, Santa Claus and his Elves (which apparently now is insanely collectible… for good reason, the illustrations are amazing!) In this book, each Christmas all the elves eat a special Christmas pudding, and there is an almond hidden inside it. Whoever finds the almond will have good luck all the following year. We liked the idea, so we incorporated it into the cranberry salad.
And yet, though I loved helping make the salad every year with my mom, I refused to actually taste the dish that all my family members raved about and asked for each holiday. Perhaps I’d had an unfortunate run-in with a raw cranberry and decided it wasn’t for me; I don’t really remember (I was an odd kid – I also didn’t like ice cream growing up. Or non-Kit-Kat chocolate. Thankfully I’ve outgrown these foibles.) But one day in high school, I finally decided to try it, and I understood what all the fuss was about. It. Is. Delicious! Sweet and crunchy and slightly nutty, and really not all that bad for you. Fruit = good for you. Nuts = super food. Celery = extra healthy!
So as I get ready to help my mom with our annual Christmas batch, I will share her recipe with you, and hope that you will share it with your families. Cross your fingers that Mom’s faithful blender still has another good year in it! If not, we will just have to spring for a new one – for us, it’s not a holiday without this dish!
Mom’s Holiday Cranberry Salad
Time: 15 minutes, plus overnight for soaking and Jello-cooling time.
Serves about 16 (1/2 cup servings)
121 calories; 27 carbs; 2g fat; 2g protein; 43 g sodium; 25g sugar
- 2 cups cranberries (to make about 1 cup finely chopped)
- 1 cup sugar (I think you could get away with ¾ cup)
- 2 small or 1 large package(s) any flavor red Jello. My mom says sugar free will not set up properly; I plan to experiment but for now, just trust her on this and use regular.
- 1 cup chopped celery (yes! Celery! In Jello.)
- 1 can mandarin oranges, drained
- 1 cup crushed pineapple, drained (1 of the small cans)
- ½ to 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 1 whole almond, for luck
The night before you serve the salad…
- Rinse and separate the cranberries – throw away any squishy ones. You want nice, firm berries.
- (Here comes my childhood holiday sound….) Toss cranberries in a blender and pulse until finely chopped.
- Mix the chopped cranberries with the sugar, and let soak overnight in the fridge.
The morning of the day you serve the salad…
- Prep the Jello according to package directions.
- When slightly cooled, add Jello to cranberry/sugar mix.
- To this mixture, add all the rest of the ingredients. DO NOT FORGET TO DRAIN THE ORANGES AND PINEAPPLE. If you add in the juice it’s stored in, your Jello will not set properly. It will be cranberry jello soup, not salad.
- Mix well & refrigerate till Jello is firm.
When you serve the salad…
Remember to tell your guests about the almond, so they will know they are lucky if they find it. If it is a “surprise” almond, the guest might not feel so lucky when they encounter such an unexpectedly hard object with their teeth!