My Minnesota grandma's ubiquitous holiday salad was what was colloquially referred to as an "ambrosia."
Your grandma probably had one, too: Jello whipped together with Cool Whip, Maraschino cherries, mandarin oranges, mini-marshmallows, and pecans. As a kid, the nuts made me look at the thing with an accusatory eye each time it hit the table, for every single holiday, in my great-grandmother's beveled crystal bowl. But dutiful kid that I was, I'd still take a dollop of the sugar bomb, fish out the marshmallows, and cast aside the nuts.
Maybe the now-infamous "Minnesota Grape Salad" was someone's grandma's iteration of an ambrosia?
Maybe. But still...
The social media outrage over the New York Times' United States of Thanksgiving pick for a Minnesota holiday dish cuts deeper than the fact that no one has ever heard of the damn thing.
Instead, it's about the fact that however subtle, Midwestern -- and indeed Minnesotan -- cuisine is as much about deeply held traditions, solid cooking technique, and iconic ingredients as any other region's cuisine -- yet we got short shrift.
Consider that New York got double apple pie, Vermont's pick was Cheddar mashed potatoes, and Maine got lobster mac and cheese, and the grape salad feels like a throwaway. Hell, even Wisconsin got wild rice with mushrooms.
Both Minnesota and Wisconsin share the distinction of producing some of the finest wild rice in the world, where it is hand-harvested out of lakes and rivers using native methods. So why not give us wild rice and let Wisconsin have its cheese? (Hands off our wild rice casserole, 'Sconnies!)
Outside of our neck of the woods, people don't really stop to consider what Minnesota food is all about, despite the fact that we've got one of the fastest growing restaurant communities in the country. Is the implication that we're bereft of true culinary sensibilities and unable to cull from our own rich, constantly changing seasonal bounty? Despite what my grandma's ambrosia salad might suggest, it ain't all about canned cherries and California grapes around here.
Here are five other dishes the New York Times might have picked to represent our great state for the great feast of Thanksgiving:
1. Hot Dish Ah, the hot dish, the humble casserole. Now there's a Thanksgiving dish we can all throw our support behind -- from the green bean casserole (with or without the iconic French's fried onions on top) to a wild rice hot dish to any combination of ingredients topped with tater tots.
2. Scalloped potatoes Another crowd-pleasing dish that's the celestial trinity of potatoes, butter, and cheese -- and has never inspired the eyebrow raising, cringe-worthy responses that grapes, sour cream, and brown sugar in one unholy bowl have garnered.
3. Pumpkin Bars I've never seen a Thanksgiving table without a pumpkin pie despite its polarizing nature. And if the New York Times wanted to go all church basement on us they could have at the very least given us bars, for Chrissake.
4. Turkey with Wild Rice We happen to be the nation's biggest producer of turkey, with 450 family farmers raising approximately 46 million turkeys annually (and both the birds up for the traditional presidential pardon this year are from Minnesota). So there's that.
5. Rhubarb Crisp Grapes? We do rhubarb here. Or Honeycrisp apples. Or both, in the form of a delicious, baked crisp, served with a creamy, locally produced vanilla bean ice cream.
This is all to say nothing of the "Minnesota-born heiress" from whom the grape salad abomination was said to have originated. This detail alone has got us all up in arms.
What heiress? If they know nothing else about us, they should at the very least understand that we are salt-of-the-earth, snow-shoeing, windshield-scraping, hunter-fishermen who have inherited very little except our hardiness and penchant for "putting up" so that we can actually eat through six months of winter.
Canning? Curing? Gardening? Preserving? All those cool Brooklyn buzzwords making that borough so famous? Not in small part ours -- because if our great-grandparents hadn't known those methods, they wouldn't have eaten at all in the dead of a Minnesota winter.
So please, give us some small measure of respect. It's 19 degrees, and even if we sound a little bit surly, Minnesota Nice is real, and if you ask any one of us at all, we'd be happy to invite you to a good old fashioned, true Minnesota Thanksgiving table.
We won't even make you try the ambrosia.
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