Pear Salad

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Serve up a delicious salad—and a dose of nostalgia.

I was born in the South. I've lived here my entire life. But I don't think Southerners know what the word "salad" means. Ladies and gentlemen, Exhibit A: Pear Salad.

Pear salad is remarkable not only for its loose status as a salad, but also for its genius-level simplicity. Though variations exist, a classic Southern pear salad consists of the following, in this order, on a plate:

1. A leaf or leaves of lettuce, be it iceberg or plain jane romaine

2. A lone pear half, and a canned one at that—pale, cored, still glistening from the can

3. A dollop of Southern manna—that would be mayonnaise—spooned into the cored pear

4. Exactly one half of one alarmingly red maraschino cherry

5. A haphazard sprinkle of only the finest shredded Cheddar cheese

Pear Salad
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

So Where Did Pear Salad Come From?

Internet rumor has it that this zany "salad" has ancestry that dates back to a cookbook from 1899 called The American Salad Cookbook. That recipe featured pears on a bed of lettuce, drizzled with a mayonnaise dressing. The peculiar additions of cherries and cheese are a mystery. But I'd be willing to bet you two cans of pears that the 1950s are to blame.

So Why Can't Southerners Figure Out What Salad Is?

Now wait a minute. That's not fair! But wait—it kinda is? There's Ham Salad, Egg Salad, and Chicken Salad. By these examples, you might argue that, to Southerners, a salad is anything bound by mayonnaise (and you could probably argue that point in a court of law).

But what about Strawberry Pretzel Salad, Orange Sherbet Salad, and all the Fluff Salads—Cranberry, Pistachio, and Pineapple? And then there's Tomato Aspic, which we Southerners also consider a salad.

So basically, to Southerners, a salad is a combination of ingredients that don't make sense called anything else.

And Why Do Folks Like This?

My personal running theory is that parents drank a lot of martinis in the 1950s, and kids will eat pretty much anything. Fast-forward 50+ years, and that's how nostalgia works, folks. But seriously… Pear Salad's play of textures, colors, and flavors, plus the sweet vs. savory tug-of-war all make it intriguing, right? I mean, aren't you curious to try just one bite?

Should I Serve Pear Salad At My Next Dinner Party?

Dang, that would be a riot. I mean, why not? Half the people will love you for ringing their nostalgia bell. A solid one-quarter of the guests will totally think you've lost your mind. The remaining quarter will be polite and try it—and may be surprised to discover they actually like it. If nothing else, you'll have turned the salad course into a conversation piece, and that's always a party win.

But What About That Cherry!

I know, I know… It throws me, too. I honestly don't care for fresh pears that much, canned pears even less. But I mean, I'm Southern; mayonnaise makes almost anything edible. Ditto with cheese.

But the cherry? With all that cloying syrupy almondy sweetness? It makes alarmingly little sense.

But step back and look at the composed plate. That pear salad is lookin' at you, right? The cherry is for the kids. It's got to be. That's the only reason a person would have made that decision. That, or she spilled her Manhattan on the salad platter and was like, "What a lovely pop of color!"

Editorial contributions by Josh Miller.

Ingredients

  • 1 head lettuce

  • 1 (15-oz.) can pear halves

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise

  • 1/2 cup Cheddar cheese, shredded

  • Maraschino cherries

Directions

  1. Arrange lettuce leaves on a dish. Drain canned pear halves, and place open-face-up on top of lettuce.

  2. Spoon a dollop (about one tablespoon) of mayonnaise into each canned pear half, and sprinkle with Cheddar cheese. Top each pear half with a maraschino cherry.

    pear salad on a plate
    Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox
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