Monday, November 15, 2010

Pink Surprise Surprises Me With Memories

This morning I connected with a "kindred spirit" via the Internet.

Her name is Amy Alessio and she lives and works in the Chicago suburbs. Amy is a young adult librarian, a writer, and a collector of vintage cookbooks and recipes.

I love vintage cookbooks and recipes, too, and recently started my own collection. I usually don't actually make the recipes...some of them are downright weird for today's tastes...but I love the window into history they provide.

Over the weekend, Amy wrote a blog post about Pink Surprise Salad:

From the name, you'd think the recipe was about cherry or raspberry Jello, or even a salad with beets. But no--the "pink" comes from catsup mixed with cottage cheese and a few other items: green onion, hard boiled eggs, and "salad dressing" which in the South is what we call Miracle Whip.

This recipe reminded me of one of my favorite cafeteria meals from my youth/young adulthood in Memphis. As previously mentioned in my blogs, my mother did not cook when I was growing up.

When she was single she developed a habit of eating at Britling's Cafeteria, a Memphis culinary institution for about 60 years until it closed due to the proliferation of fast food.

She saw no reason to discontinue that habit after she married, so we ate at Britling's at least once a week.

One of my favorite selections was something called, Lettuce Salad with Cottage Cheese Dressing.

It consisted of a crosswise slice of iceberg lettuce, with Cottage Cheese Dressing. I never knew exactly what was in the dressing, just that I loved its creamy, tangy taste. It did have bits of green onion and red and green bell pepper in it, but I never knew exactly what else: was it buttermilk? milk? Miracle Whip?

I guess I will never know now...I googled Cottage Cheese Dressing and came up with many possibilities but none attributed to the original Britling's.

When I was single and in my 20s, I continued my mother's habit of eating out a lot. We usually revert to the way we were raised, at least until we discover deeper things inside ourselves (the way I discovered my passion for cooking).

I loved that Lettuce Salad with Cottage Cheese Dressing at Britling's because in the '80s I considered it both tasty and healthy...well, it was at least, healthier than say, macaroni and cheese. I enjoyed eating it with their hand-carved roast beef, a cornstick, and a vegetable...usually turnip greens. I always drank coffee with my meal, and loved going to the huge silver urn for my free refills.

It was a sad day for me when Britling's closed and lunch choices revolved around chicken nuggets and such.  And, it was a hospitable place. The cashiers, line servers, and tray-carriers had all worked there for years and knew my name and what I liked.

I miss it still, after nearly 20 years absence, but Britling's left me a legacy of good, plain, simple food that was both comforting and full of love. And some good memories of my mother, too. Maybe it wasn't so bad, that she didn't cook.

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