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  • Writer's picturePaula Wesselmann

What’s In a Cranberry?

As we approach Thanksgiving, my thoughts keep returning to a special memory of when I was flying for Pan American World Airways. It was the holidays in New York City, and my sister, Linda, and I had invited a few Pan Am friends over to help celebrate the holiday. While growing up, Linda and I had learned to cook by the elbow of our mother, who could turn leftovers into a gourmet meal. When I close my eyes, I remember the comfort and warmth of a busy fragrant kitchen and the stories that stem from whatever family dish that was being prepared. As Linda and I put on our aprons and removed fresh cranberries from the refrigerator, there was no need for words. The story of our Italian grandparents filled our thoughts and held our silence as we began the task of cleaning and cutting each cranberry.

When my grandparents left Italy and settled in Gary, Indiana, my grandmother, Josephina Ferrara, was introduced to a tart and colorful berry. When she placed the cranberry in her mouth, her lips puckered from the taste, and her husband leaned over and kissed her passionately.

Grandmother decided then and there to create a salad from this delightful fruit. After all, she believed that each dish was like a romance, prepared with love and served to satisfy the appetite.

The thought of Grandmother's cranberry salad always brings to mind the briskness of fall, the colors on an artist's palette, the arrival of a holiday with family and friends, and a combination of flavors that creates a craving that is never satisfied.

That evening with a room filled with Pan Amers, I stood back and observed a spirit of camaraderie not always found in places of work. They had the gift of grabbing moments and turning them into lasting memories that kept your head spinning with humor, stories, and jokes. As I looked at their faces, I saw adventurous souls. They were attractive people who chose a career 35,000 feet in the air, where the heavenly sky challenged the choices they made when on the ground, where the uniqueness of each country traveled broadened their perspective of the world and helped define what they wanted to do in their life and who they wanted to become.

The record, Limbo Rock by the Champs, was placed on the record player, and the broom from the kitchen, held by two stewardesses, had co-pilot, Robert, bending backward and passing beneath its width. We all knew the dance originated on the island of Trinidad and Tobago, but it was not until Robert won the competition that we learned the limbo dance was a ritual performed at wakes. What I loved about Pan Amers, were the stories and information that poured out of them, no matter where we were or what we were doing. At this moment, it was Magdalena, one of the island girls that got us thinking beyond music and dance and the fun we were having.

Magdalena was full-figured with large brown eyes, dark skin, and a charming English accent. "In Trinidad, this dance portrayed going down in the hold of a slave ship. The space between the upper deck and floor was narrow. It wasn't designed for standing but for packing slaves in. No matter how they squirmed, twisted, or arched, they would go deeper into the hole that kept them in limbo. This dance was originally a dance of bondage, but now it is for fun. My father says, "To define the past with the same meaning in the present, keeps all men as slaves. Everything changes with time - so should our thinking. Come, Robert, this time I dance and show you how it's done.

Now that Thanksgiving is around the corner, I would love to share Grandmother’s Cranberry Salad with you. Enjoy.

Cranberry Salad

Coarsely chop or put into a Cuisinart the following.

  • 1 lb. of fresh cranberries (11/4 bags). Save the leftover cranberries for decorations, dampen them, and toss them with sugar.

  • 2 Red Delicious apples with skin.

  • 1 orange with skin (cut off the ends).

  • ¼ lemon with skin.

  • 1 can of pineapple chunks. Drain the pineapple and save the juice for later.

  • ¼ or ½ cup of walnuts.

  • 1 cup of chopped celery.

  • 1 pkg of red Jell-O.

  • 1 pkg of Knox gelatin.

  • 1 can of small frozen concentrated orange juice.

In a large bowl, add fresh cranberries, apple, orange skin, lemon skin, pineapple chunks, walnuts, and celery. In a saucepan, add orange juice, pineapple juice, Jell-O, and Knox gelatin. Stir over medium heat until dissolved. Add to the bowl of chopped ingredients. Add a dash of salt and sugar according to taste. Usually, more sugar is needed.

Add to a mold and refrigerate 1 hour before serving. You can spray the mold with Pam so it won't stick, or place the mold in hot water before turning it upside down. Bon Appetite.

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