It started with the tuna-noodle casserole. My husband and I had been married barely two weeks when I cooked up one of the few meals I knew how to make – the infamous tuna casserole.
He didn’t like it. Something about the consistency, he said. He didn’t even pretend to enjoy the casserole for the sake of newly-wedded bliss. At that point, I realized cooking and baking would be more difficult than I thought. And, it wasn’t a natural talent for me.
In our early years, the family must have known about my lack of skill in the kitchen. At Christmas and other holidays, each family was assigned to bring a specific food to contribute to the holiday meal.
“Kristine, can you bring the relishes?” they asked for most of the early years. They figured I couldn’t mess up carrots and celery sticks.
With more experience, my cooking skills improved throughout the years. I wanted to make something special that I was known for. “Mom’s famous whatever.” It would be that special food the kids would want me to make when as adults they return home for the holidays.
Little did I know, that special salad had been in my recipe box the entire time. My college friends had hosted a kitchen wedding shower for us before we got married, and each friend shared their favorite recipes on old-fashioned recipe index cards (that’s what we used before Pinterest). My friends knew I needed help in the kitchen even back then!
My dear friend, Erica, had shared her Strawberry Jell-O Pretzel Salad recipe that has now become a family favorite and has lifted me out of the bringing-relishes-for-the-holidays role. Who can resist the salty taste of buttery pretzels topped with the sweetness of whipped cream, cream cheese and strawberry Jell-O?
It took many years of trial and error before I perfected that recipe. You have to time it just right. If you pour the Jell-O over the pretzels and whipped cream too soon, it gets soggy. Wait too long, and the Jell-O gets chunky.
It was Erica who later helped me learn the secrets of the Strawberry Jell-O Pretzel Salad after the refrigerator explosion incident. I had planned to treat Erica and her family to the sweet taste of the Strawberry Jell-O Pretzel salad during one of their weekend visits. I had placed the salad in the refrigerator to begin the “setting” process. But, as I reached into the refrigerator to grab something else, I bumped the shelf, and red sticky Jell-O spilled down every nook and cranny in the entire refrigerator.
“You have to put in the frozen strawberries to help set the Jell-O,” she advised me as she helped me clean up the catastrophe in my kitchen.
Now, that I have been making that recipe successfully for several years, it has become my trademark salad.
Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving. “Kristine, can you bring the Strawberry Jell-O Pretzel Salad?”
My husband, the same one who didn’t like my tuna casserole, even loves this salad. He and I will often battle it out in the rare chance of leftover Strawberry Pretzel Salad. I will be looking forward to eating the leftovers with my lunch only to find out there are just one or two bites left in the corner of the pan.
This Thanksgiving, as my sister was planning her menu, she knew what she would ask me to bring, and I am happy to do so.
But, if there are any leftovers, I’m calling them now! Or, I just might have to make that tuna noodle casserole again.