It's Not Thanksgiving Without My Grandmother Showing Up With This Retro Ginger Pear Salad

It arrived unannounced and uninvited—and now we love it.

Pear Salad
Photo: Southern Living

Has anyone ever noticed that the most retro Southern holiday dishes always tend to show up to the party unannounced, uninvited, and ready to make everyone moving down the sideboard line just a little bit uncomfortable? That congealed salad will stare you down, and it will not jiggle itself.

While my aunt showing up with the heirloom family recipe for Nana's Lime Delight every Easter is undoubtedly scarring to some, my grandmother's pear salad that began sneaking up at Thanksgiving a few years back receives more amiable reviews. It even disappears off the serving platter at a successful rate for such a retro dish. I'd reckon the lack of gelatin helps.

It all started one Thanksgiving morning when the turkey was still in the smoker, and everything else was ready to pop back into the oven to warm before serving. My grandmother must've found herself bored, and she's not one for idle hands. She happened to have bought the ingredients for one of her favorite holiday fruit dishes from when she was a child, and she'd be darned if we weren't going to at least try it. So it went onto the Thanksgiving table, already bulging with casserole dishes.

Her vintage ginger pear salad was simple in concept: just halved or quartered fresh pears with the empty cores filled with a softened cream cheese mixture flavored with lemon juice, chopped crystallized ginger, chopped toasted pecans, and spices. She served them all on a bed of greens to dress up the dish for the occasion and topped them with whole toasted pecans. All in all, it's like a slightly fresher and more grown-up version of the simple Southern pear salads that typically come toting canned pears, mayonnaise, grated Cheddar cheese, and maraschino cherries. And we didn't hate it. Despite being an odd addition to the otherwise classic casserole-heavy menu, it served as a welcome bite of cool, gingery fruitiness.

Since then, it has shown up at almost every Thanksgiving feast, more for tradition and nostalgia's sake than the expectation that the serving platter will ever be scraped clean or the kids will ever agree to taste it. It has the standing invitation, though, more than Nana's Lime Delight can say.

Make your version of this retro holiday dish with our Old-School Pear Mayonnaise Salad, Mama Mae's Ambrosia Salad, or one of these other vintage Thanksgiving recipes.

Every family has a special holiday dish that feels like a relative in its own right, and ours happens to come decked out in fruity charm.

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