It Wouldn't Be The Holidays Without Mama's Marshmallow Fruit Salad

Marshmallow Fruit Salad
Photo: Jessica Furniss

Entering my parents' house at the holidays is like watching the opening scenes of Home Alone, where multiple families converge on one house and absolute chaos ensues. We usually have over 20 people staying for the duration, including my parents, their four children plus spouses, and a dozen energetic grandchildren ranging from babies to teenagers.

This boisterous crowd must be fed (hangry relatives are not to be trifled with), so the kitchen stays humming with the preparations for one meal starting just about as soon as the cleanup on the previous meal has ended.

It's an all-hands-on-deck situation, with the ladies of the family elbow deep in dish suds or busily chopping ingredients whenever they aren't tending babies, refereeing sibling skirmishes, or directing teenagers to pitch in.

The men have an uncanny knack for staying out of the fray. We aren't always sure exactly where they go (it seems there are a lot of places to lie low in the rolling hills of my parents' Mississippi farm), but they faithfully turn up at mealtime when summoned, and it's evident that whatever they were doing must have worked up quite an appetite.

My mom leads the charge on this family-feeding operation and is a master of improvisation. One staple of just about every get-together year-round is Marshmallow Fruit Salad.

Now don't let the fact that this dish has a name lead you to believe it's actually a recipe per se. No, it's more of a loose concept that bends and stretches to accommodate the ingredients on hand and the headcount for the meal.

Really, the only absolute musts from batch to batch are lots of mini marshmallows and the canned pie filling (and even that varies based on what's in the pantry, with blueberry or blackberry flavors stepping in for the cherry kind).

The rest depends on whatever is available. Mama just pulls out her massive 16-quart stainless steel mixing bowl and starts tossing stuff in—oranges, grapes, apples, blackberries, pineapple, bananas, blueberries, peaches, strawberries. The assortment changes with the seasons and sometimes includes produce from my dad's large garden. She scans the counters and refrigerator and keeps adding until all the available fruit is used up or the behemoth bowl is full, whichever comes first. "I just dump it in there and call it good," she explains. "The pie filling holds it all together."

Sometimes little hands will swipe the fruit as fast as we can chop it before it can even make it into the mix, altering the ratio in the bowl but never diminishing the flavor of the concoction or the kaleidoscope of colors.

I guess if this recipe is going to have a name, we should really call it Kitchen-Sink Salad because Mama throws just about everything in there. Although it's different every time, somehow it's always perfect.

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