Saturday, October 30, 2010

Great Grandma Flora and the Green Monster

This post is a response to the Ancestors Ball Blog Party.

We're approaching the holiday season, beginning now with our modernized holiday of Halloween. It's roots are much different, being the time of rememberence of our ancestors and the loved ones we've lost. In the very olden days, this was a special, spirit filled time when the veil between our world and the spirit grew thin and we could feel each other's presences more clearly.

I've been spending almost all my free time recently working with my sister on our family trees. Ancestry has been important in our families and we're lucky because both sets of grandparents had research that we've been able to work with. Unfortunately, enough of it has been discovered to be inaccurate that now it's left to us, my sister and I, with the advantages the Internet provides researchers, to straighten things out.

No matter many names and dates I find, I still wonder what their daily lives were like. Especially the women. We think women today shoulder most of the burden of homemaking and childrearing. I shudder to imagine my great,great grandmothers' lives. I wonder a lot about the meals they prepared. I have this fantasy that one day a handwritten recipe book belonging to one of my great grandmothers or aunts will appear on Ebay and I'll win it.

This is my great grandmother, Flora. She taught school before she married. She may have been a bit unusual in her day, not because she was a teacher but because she did not marry until she was 28 years old. I met her when I was five. Photos preserved the day, but I wish I could remember it. The black and white photo is her on that day, aged 85.

A few recipes and family traditions have survived through my mother's family. One of them most of us wish would have never begun, yet in reality it is very likely the most important of them all because it ties generations together across time.
Jello has been popular since its introduction in the early 1900's. But it wasn't until 1930 and the introduction of the lime flavor that this ghastly tradition began. Although I don't really know when Flora began making this "treat", our family history, as passed to us by my mother, is that the dreaded green jello salad was made as a special treat for visiting family. What made it special....prepare yourselves.... marachino cherries ...ok, not so bad..... American cheese bits.....getting worse...and OLIVES!

Mom would make this "treat" every Thanksgiving and Christmas, lovingly bringing it to the table each holiday with the story of her grandma making it and loving it as a child. (I think they had not yet discovered real food at that time.) As you can imagine, children in the late 1960's weren't nearly as enamored of lime jello "salad" as a child in the 1940's obviously was!

I grew up thinking this was a distinctly Flora Tollman creation. Recently, I have discovered how completely wrong I was. It seems as though someone in the corporate Jello kitchens decided that through the war years, lime would be the perfect vehicle to enable homemakers to use up bits and pieces of their non-rationed foods to perk up their meals. How ingenious.

Jello concoctions became almost patriotic, in their own way, and certainly allowed Mom to give the family a little treat. I also think they musth have had lower expectations back then about what qualified as a treat.

So that explains the beginning of the very strange combination of ingredients. But it doesn't explain why Jello kept at it through the 50's and 60's!

So now I know truthfully, my great-grandmother wasn't just being frugal, she probably was considered downright fashionable to be serving a weirdly colored jiggling mass of suspended bits of artificially colored food. Cool.

What I also know now is something more profound. My mother, who is in her late 70's, continues to make this, even though she is the only one who eats it. Really, she only has a couple of bites and is done with it. But that's not why she makes it. She makes it and brings it to the table in order to suddenly become transformed into a six year old little girl, thrilled to be having dinner at her elegant grandmother's formal table. When my mother sees the glistening greenness, I believe she sees the shining eyes of her grandmother and for an instant, feels the sense of belonging, security and love that you only get when a heartstring is tied.

And I leave you now, Wendelynn, daughter of Jolene, who is the daughter of Clara, who is the daughter of Flora who is the daughter of Fredericka. In this season of remembering our ancestors, I hope you'll find something that ties your heartstrings too.


Griselda said...

This is a unique post, the Green Monster indeed sounds scary...and wonder if I would ever try to make it.
I appreciate you taking the time to write it it is wonderful to have those memories and to share it with us.

Janice said...

Gee Wendy, you are tugging at my heartstrings and almost, I said almost, willing to add this salad to my family tradition. Flora, Clara, and Jolene would be very happy to know you are giving honor to this memory with your post.

Janice, daughter of Jolene, who is the daughter of Clara, who is the daughter of Flora who is the daughter of Fredericka, and of course, the sister of Wendelynn

Wendy said...

I love everything with olives so I probably would enjoy the relish ;) I am so happy I was introduced to your blog through Aine's party. Thank you for being a wonderful hostess. Wishing you and your ancestors a Samhain full of magick and wonder.

Lori said...

I found this very intresting.I never remembered the chain of cooks!Just that our Grandma Anderson made this yuckie "Treat"I don't like lime so their for never realy tried this "Jem" Have alway's just taken your word for delecious flavor!!I will laugh at the day I arrived at Mom's after Dad passed and Kira couldn't wait to show me the Green Jello in the frig! Till death do us part! Poor Dad.

Jolene said...

Oh, that does it!!! I just found this tirade on the "green monster".
A correction or two.... I may only have a few bites at the first time it's served, only because of the abundance of all the other great food. But I take it home and savor every bite of it till it's gone!. And buy more for when I get the urge to make it again. It's interesting to note the original made 12 servings. Remember when I was collecting those little individual Jello molds? Round, fluted and word JELLO on the bottom, that inverted on a plate said JELLO! That would be what it was referring to. And my only recollection of it being molded was because my mom only had the more shallow ring mold that I continued to use for my Jello. That took two boxes, by the way! She never had anything in the center, as first she was not an explorative cook, and second, due to lack of a variety to work with for garnishes. I use to have a favorite small condiments dish that I put mayonaise in and set in the middle of the ring of Jello. I remember one time I actually put the whole business on lettuce leaves, and thought how great it looked. I make my cheese in smaller bites than they showed. My Grandmother Flora used Kraft American Deluxe, which now can come in slices. I buy the packs with out the individual papers in the slices. Then those seperate into smaller bits with the stiring to keep them mixed up. Fail to catch it at the right time, and you end up usually with most of the cherries, cheese and olives, all together where it sunk to the bottom of the mold. Then you invert it and it's all on top. Well, could look worse, but is better if you pay attention and catch it mid setting of the jell and stir it... I never heard about using relish, and that does sound horrible. We usually didn't have celery, but I can imagine that would be good, maybe!!! And as to your father,Wendell, I'd say he didn't love it, but looked at it as food, and did eat some! He was a good sport!EH?
I still love it, and do make it for myself,in small bowls, with only one package of Jello, and do remember Grandma Flora, and Mom Clara. I'm mother to these dear, unappreciative children, Wendy, Janice and Lori.... Ah for History!
And I do appreciate your recognizing tradition!