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Pinke Post: Bring a 'Ch-ello' to the funeral

Jell-O is considered a "salad" in the upper Midwest. The box of sugar, gelatin, flavor and dye proved important when a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables were accessible decades ago. It remains a staple in our small town by an older generation of...

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Photo courtesy of Katie Pinke.

 

Jell-O is considered a “salad” in the upper Midwest.

The box of sugar, gelatin, flavor and dye proved important when a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables were accessible decades ago. It remains a staple in our small town by an older generation of home cooks. I carry on the tradition.

If you live behind the sauerkraut curtain in south-central North Dakota, you call it Ch-ello-the German-Russian dialect and culture in our corner of the prairie is tangible.

 

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When my husband and I moved to Wishek nine years ago, we started attending his childhood home church. The pastor encouraged me to become a member. I wasn’t sure I was ready to take that step, but I quickly learned I couldn’t be on a serving group until I was a member.

 

At the time, church membership was dwindling-there were more funerals than baptisms. In fact, our county was the most elderly per capita in the nation. Serving groups prepare the food for funerals in the church basement kitchen. They also serve at the funerals, but my pastor assured me I wouldn’t have to help with that aspect if I didn’t want to. A salad or bars would be sufficient.

 

I joined the church and was assigned to serving group “1.” The sign of serving groups hangs on the kitchen door with all names and phone numbers to reach members when there is a need for serving and food. A hostess of the group calls when there is a need. Sometimes it is a church potluck, but most often it is a funeral.

 

My first funeral call was from Doris. She left a message asking me to bring a pan of bars to the church Monday night or Tuesday before 9 a.m. A couple months later, I was asked to bring a salad for another funeral. While other parts the country, salad may mean leafy greens, church salads are rarely leafy and green, until you are specifically asked for a “lettuce salad.”

 

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A hearty pasta salad qualifies, but Jell-O is the most widely accepted form of salad. Add a can of fruit to Jell-O and you have a salad. Gelatin has a long shelf life, and when fresh produce wasn’t available in the long winters on the prairie, a can of fruit and a box of Jell-O transformed into a salad decades ago.

My great-grandma Esther had a collection of Jell-O molds. I inherited a few and have yet to use them. They are a nod to her though and her home cooking that has been passed down for generations.My mother-in-law, Carol, makes a lemon Jell-O salad. She cuts it into squares and serves it on salad plates. She also whips up a grape Jell-O salad and adds blueberries. Both dishes often include a creamy topping; my favorite is fresh whipped cream. Carol uses a Jell-O mold once in awhile for a red Jell-O with applesauce in it. It might be on my kids’ list of their favorite comfort foods.

 

The only Jell-O salad I make is my Grandma Nola’s Cherry Coke Jell-O. I know the recipe by memory: Bring cherry pie filling, sugar and water to a boil. Add in Coca-Cola and black cherry Jell-O.

 

When my good friend’s mother died a few years ago, it was a sad August day. Janet was a matriarch in our community. The next day, I got the call. The message on our landline phone went something like this: “Hello, dis is Hilda. Chanet died. Bring a Ch-ello.” You could hear the clunk when she hung up the receiver. I had to chuckle at Hilda’s message-and I know Janet got a kick out of it too. No bars or salad - I had specific instructions to bring Jell-O.

 

That Monday morning when I walked into our church basement holding my double batch of Cherry Coke Jell-O, I felt like I crossed a serving group threshold. I was honored to pay my respects to a woman who meant so much to our community and church with my Jell-O dish.

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After nearly nine years of being involved in a serving group, I’ve learned it’s not the Jell-O, the bars or the salad that matters. It’s the act of service-answering the call to help and giving when there is a need.

 

I’m proud our church basement meals serve “Ch-ello” because I know there’s a thoughtful person who made the dish with love. Whether the call comes from Hilda, Dolores or whomever, and you’re asked to bring Jell-O, a casserole or a dessert, that small act of service speaks volumes during a time of fellowship, grief and need.

Connect with Katie Pinke on her blog thepinkepost.com, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Related Topics: PINKE POSTRURAL LIFEFAMILY
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