Pear Salad for Christmas

Margaret S. Carr

Green and red for Christmas.  Sounds pretty ordinary until you learn that the red and green is food, and that the food turns out to be pears.  Salvaged pears became a special treat from my mother to her girls at Christmas.  My mother, Lydia Maude Garland Shipley, was of the generation that entered young adulthood during the Great Depression; the generation that learned to save everything and waste nothing.

This recipe, like most of what my mother prepared, has never before been written down by anyone in our family, and I am not sure if it was a dish that has much of a history or one that my mother invented in order to use ingredients that were at hand, primarily the pears.  My mother was the type to salvage any foodstuffs that she could preserve in some way.  I can only guess where she acquired the pears; they probably came from my cousins’ farm in Watauga, Tennessee.  The trees stood in the middle of a cow pasture, and the herd seemed to object to losing their treats to us.

The late summer and early autumn was canning time.  My mother would spend all day in the hot kitchen with no air-conditioning, sterilizing lids and jars and preparing the fruit for canning.  She never owned a pressure canner, so everything was done in the hot water bath method, and the steam added to the heat and humidity.  By the end of the day, however, the counter was filled with jars of parti-colored fruit in their sweet syrup.  When they cooled and the seals were checked, they were transported to the basement for storage.

One of the things that made the pear salad so special for us as kids was the fact that, as the pears were canned, my mother would put food coloring in the jars—red or green—so the pears would be pretty for Christmas.  They might have tasted just as good to us regardless, but the extra effort made an ordinary dish seem magical.

We rarely had this salad at times other than Christmas, but the remaining jars of fruit were usually eaten at some point in the year with cottage cheese, or as a side dish.  

Pear salad was presented on a separate plate as a salad course, using only five ingredients:  leaf lettuce, pears, cottage cheese, mayonnaise, and grated cheddar cheese. Two or three pear halves were placed on top of the lettuce with a dollop of cottage cheese and mayonnaise, and then topped with shredded cheddar cheese.  (When we discovered Miracle Whip, we substituted that for mayonnaise.)  The sweet of the syrup mixed well with the tangy mayonnaise and the sharp cheddar.