FARGO - Let me start by saying, I'm proud to be from the Midwest. I'm sensitive to the comments about this being "flyover" country and always like to point out to whomever is listening that our region often ranks highest in the nation in many important areas like livability, job growth and graduation rates. We have a lot to brag about, but what I want to say to the people of my home region is this: "For the love of God, people, Jell-O is not real salad."
As a matter of full disclosure, I'm a Midwestern transplant. My family is originally from the Washington, D.C., area, and I moved here in elementary school. I got teased for my "Southern" accent and slowly got used to calling Coke "pop." I learned that bags were "begs" and that a foul ball in gym class was a "fall" ball. OK, I'm down with all of that.
Now when I go back to northern Virginia/Maryland where all my relatives still live, I get teased for my Northern accent. Progress. I tell you this because in our house, "salad" was a green leafy thing covered in Hidden Valley Ranch dressing. No Jell-O included. Mom used to make red Jell-O with bananas in it or that '70s favorite 1-2-3 Jell-O - best served after a fondue dinner while wearing bell bottoms. Make no mistake about it, Jell-O is dessert.
But in my beloved Midwest, salad takes on a much broader definition. It can certainly be that green leafy dish covered in dressing, but it can also mean vegetables, dairy products and more, congealed in a mold with Jell-O.
In fact, my mother-in-law, who is a wonderful cook, always makes something she called a green salad which combines green Jell-O, pineapple, whipped cream, marshmallows and cottage cheese. I remember my niece raving about how much she loved it and how she wanted seconds. I used to wonder if I could just discreetly give her my serving without causing a scene. (In the Midwest, implying that you dislike something might be considered a scene.)
Jell-O salads can contain marshmallows, whipped topping, pineapple, cottage cheese, nuts, and even vegetables. Other Jell-O salads might include carrots, olives or celery. Is it these savory items that turn Jell-O into "salad?"
Maybe, but I would argue, the sugar content and sweetness of the whipped topping, cream cheese and canned pineapple is the salad deal breaker.
If it contains Cool Whip, it is no longer a salad. This, of course, means that something Midwesterners call "Cookie Salad" or "Snickers Salad" is automatically kicked to the curb. (Yes, that's right. Those of us in the Heartland actually make salads out of candy bars and cookies. While I'm the first to argue these aren't really salads, I will tell you, I kind of love cookie salad ... a lot. It's disturbing.)
Maybe I just need to relax. It's just semantics. The word "salad" is in these recipes, but we're aware they're far different than traditional leafy, green savory salads served at dinner tables around the nation. Labels don't matter. Whether it's a health-conscious kale and spinach salad or a salad made with fudge-striped cookies, they're both delicious and we here in "flyover country" will enjoy them all.
God bless the Midwest!