We are going to my youngest son's for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. When invited, I asked what I could bring. The answer was quick: "Bring your pea salad, please." So I am taking that and a lemon-lime jello salad. I will almost always take some kind of salad to a pot luck rather than a desert because salads of any kind are my favourite foods.
There are all kinds of pea salad recipes. The pea salad I remember from youth consisted of canned peas, boiled eggs, mayonnaise, pickles and celery. It was o.k., but not really yummy.
When I worked in downtown Des Moines in the early '70's, I often bought a sandwich for lunch at the Younkers Deli. They had all kinds of deli meats and salads. One day I tried a small cup of their pea salad. It was so good; different from any pea salad I'd ever had before. I asked if they would give me the recipe. "Sorry, no." I figured my only option was to buy it there occasionally and enjoy it.
Then one day it occurred to me that I could figure out what was in it and try making it myself. It was cauliflower, fresh peas, onion and cheese in a mayonnaise dressing. Simple, right? Wrong. It took many tries before I made a passable resemblance to the Younkers' Pea Salad.
I began taking my pea salad to family dinners. My sister-in-law, Ruthie, loved it. She started requesting it for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter get-togethers. One day she asked me to write down the recipe for her. I decided if I was going to take time to figure out the measurements for everything I put in it, I was going to give it a name. That is how "Ramona's Famous Pea Salad" came to be. I guess I could have labeled it "Your Sister-in-Law's Pea Salad" or some such - but once in a while I like to grand stand.
I wrote the recipe down for her, but I still don't have a copy that I follow when my kids ask me to bring my pea salad. But if you want to try making it, it goes something like this:
One head of cauliflower separated into florets. One large bag of frozen peas dumped into a colander and run under hot water a minute or two. (Do not cook.) Small red onion chopped. Eight ounces of colby-jack cheese cubed.
If I'm not making this for a large gathering, I only use part of a head of cauliflower, a 16 oz. bag of peas, a quarter cup of chopped onion and half or 3/4's the block of cheese. Today for the picture, I just sprinkled on some shredded cheddar cheese - a cup or two of which could be used in place of the cubed colby-jack.
I finally learned that the secret was in the dressing. I use about a cup of Hellman's real mayo, a half cup of milk, and 1/4 cup sugar, salt and fresh ground or restaurant ground pepper to taste. I mix everything except the cubed cheese the day before if possible so the flavors mix well. Before taking to the pot luck, I add the cheese and check the dressing for consistency and taste. If the dressing is too sticky, I just add a little more milk as well as more sugar, salt, or pepper if needed.
One Christmas after reading some other pea salad recipes, I added some pickled herring to mine. I was asked (told) never to do that again - at least not if taking it to my younger son's home.
So, my salads are made, ready for tomorrow's feast. Happy Thanksgiving to all.