Funerals, Family, and Lutheran Food

At my grandmother's funeral yesterday there were few familiar faces.  I recognized my mother's sisters and one much older cousin, but the rest of the guests were, although family, strangers to me.  I met cousins I didn't know existed, and reintroduced myself to a cousin who used to tease me without mercy during our rare family reunions.  At lunch after the burial we sat laughing about our failing memories and political differences, and exchanged our chili-making secrets. 

My parents raised my sisters and I as Catholics and my mother's family is overwhelming Baptist, so I remember well the summer reunion when a dessert commonly associated with Minnesota Lutherans appeared on the pot luck picnic tables amid 3-bean salads, hot dog buns, and Shasta pop.  Anyone who lives in Minnesota understands the legacy of Lutheran food, and that Strawberry Pretzel Jell-O Salad sealed my reverence for Church Basement cuisine.

This reverence was lost on my stranger-family.  When I mentioned that introduction to Lutheran food they heard mockery in my statement rather than respect.  I promised to bring the Jell-O Salad when we meet again, and I'm convinced that the experience will demonstrate to them the value of this cookery.  The beauty of this recipe is that the presence of strawberries defines the dish as salad.

2 c. crushed pretzel sticks
3/4 c. melted butter
3 tbsp. sugar
8 oz. cream cheese, room temp
1 c. sugar
8 oz. whipped cream (most recipes call for Cool Whip)
1 6 oz. package strawberry Jell-O
2 c. boiling water
2 1/2 cups fresh picked strawberries, sliced (most recipes call for 2 x 10 ounce packages frozen)

Mix first three ingredients and press in bottom of a 9"x13" pan. Bake at 350 degrees (metal pan) or 325 degrees (glass pan) 8 minutes. Let cool completely. Beat 1 cup sugar and cream cheese. Fold in whipped cream. Spread over pretzels. Mix Jello and water until dissolved. Add strawberries. Stir into Jello, then set aside for 10 minutes. Pour over cheese mixture. Chill.  Cut into bars.


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