It is 3:50 a.m. on a Wednesday. This is one of the many aspects of being a 50 year old woman that I never anticipated and am not sure how I feel about. Some days my body says it is time to be awake despite what the bedside clock or my brain tells me. As I stand and watch the coffee maker brew I was thinking about family summer road trips. Maybe it is because we are heading to Rangeley for a long weekend on Quimby Pond and I have many things to do to prepare. I started thinking about the family trips we took when I was a kid. I’ve mentioned my visits to Lee County, VA in an earlier article, and while most of our vacations involved visiting family, there were other trips where we might be destined for somewhere else (the beach?) but we always managed to sneak in a visit with a nearby family member either on our way there or on our return.
On these road trips in my parent’s giant Oldsmobile, riding in the backseat either required negotiating sitting between Momma and Granny, or if I was solo in the back, the floorboard always held coolers so I spent much of those trips laying down because there was no place to put my feet. And no, I don’t remember wearing seatbelts in the car until I was much older.
According to my parents, while our destination would offer good food, the road rarely did, so we traveled with full coolers.The only exception to this was fast food fried chicken (specifically Bojangles, Popeyes or Church’s). Both of my parents LOVED it. I can remember sitting in the back seat watching Momma dip Daddy’s fried chicken leg into his mashed potatoes with gravy and hold it for him while he drove. It was a bonus if the fast food fried chicken place offered fried chicken livers or gizzards. Almost 20 years ago, after nearly doing a U-turn on 95 when I saw a Popeyes at the Kennebunkport rest stop, I learned that those menu items are “only offered in select markets” (which translates to the Deep South).
Because Daddy was a nut for any historical site of great or small significance, while we often travelled on the highway, we exited frequently and spent many hours visiting the home of this or that historical figure, a battle site or my personal favorite, a spot where a significant thing no longer exists in any identifiable form, but the location is still marked.
On these stops, Momma would root around in the coolers and pull out breakfast biscuit sandwiches, slices
of baked ham, homemade pimento cheese, Aunt Anita’s soft and buttery yeast bread, sliced tomatoes and cukes from the garden and deviled eggs. If you aren’t familiar with pimento cheese, it is a Southerner’s favorite spread, sometimes referred to as the pâté of the South. It is a staple of church potlucks, picnics and homemade pimento cheese was always in the refrigerator of my childhood. It can be spread on bread for a quick sandwich, or served with veggies as a dip or slather it on a burger off the grill. A multifaceted mayonnaise & cheese application! What more could you ask for?
Because we always had something sweet on hand, there was often cherry yum-yum in the cooler. Don’t assume that it was a portable dish. It is more of a pudding or trifle and balancing that in a cooler on long road trips was no easy task. I’m not sure of its origins except to say that it is likely a southern thing, a sort of no-bake cheesecake and a Google search tells me it is not unique to my family. What makes it unique in my immediate family is that despite its popularity and relative ease to make, it was NEVER something Momma made, but always present at any Montgomery family gathering. Most often it was made by my Aunt Anita or Granny and I remember it being something that was always loaded in the cooler for family road trips.
Google also tells me it is known by other names; cherry delight, no bake cherry lush, cherry salad, etc. There are also many variations in the makeup of the cream layer (Dream Whip, Cool Whip, cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk or whipped cream) and layering method (one thick layer of each ingredient or multiple thinner layers), but the three main components remain fairly consistent. A cream layer, cherry pie filling and a graham cracker crust.
I remember on one trip when we lived in Lima, Ohio, we stopped for a few days in Tennessee to see family on our way to Myrtle Beach. I had the backseat of the car to myself, so the coolers were at my feet. The old Playmate cooler with the push button latch, was behind the driver’s seat and balanced on the top of the cold goods was the oval Pyrex bowl of cherry yum-yum covered with plastic wrap. I was reading the first three books in the Madeleine L’Engle Wrinkle in Time series that summer so I’m guessing it was probably the early 80s and for some reason that cherry yum-yum was calling my name.
I should note that I was a sneaky child. I loved nothing better than trying to get away with something I wasn’t supposed to do even if it wasn’t something I was interested in doing. For me, it was all about the excitement of pulling something over on my parents. In this instance, I was laying down reading, so reaching over and pushing the cooler button latch so I could quietly slide the lid open without alerting Momma was fairly easy. Without too much difficulty, once the cooler was open a smidge, I could slide my finger into the cooler, lift the plastic wrap and dip my finger into the cherry yum yum. With those early bites, as I was withdrawing a finger-full of cherry yum-yum I would try to spread what remained in the dish to cover my tracks.
As I am sure you can guess, one finger-full became two and then three and ultimately I was scooping handfuls of dessert out of the cooler and into my mouth. No spoon required. At some point I even gave up the pretense of trying to cover my tracks. Instead, I spent time coming up with a plausible reason why Granny would send us off with cherry yum-yum with a portion missing. The missing scoop became half the dish and then shrank to less than a quarter of the dish remaining.
At that point, teenager logic convinced me that the best course of action was to force myself to finish what remained. My stomach was hurting and the sugar sweats were setting in, but finishing seemed like the only way. I powered through, snuck all evidence out of the cooler and into my backpack. Did my parents notice? Probably. Did they say anything? No. Did they stop for fried chicken that night and I only managed to eat a wing? Yes. I guess living with a sneaky child inspires parents to get creative with their punishments. And just in case you were wondering, I carried that stupid Pyrex dish around in my backpack for the entire trip. It was not smart planning on my part.
Cherry Yum Yum
3 cups graham cracker crumbs
½ cup butter, melted
¾ cup sugar
1- 8 ounce package cream cheese
2 boxes Dream Whip
1 cup milk
1- 30 ounce can of cherry pie filling
Mix melted butter and graham cracker crumbs. Put ½ of the mixture in the bottom of a 9×13 pan.
Put the remaining mixture to the side for later.
Mix sugar with cream cheese.
Mix Dream Whip with milk and beat until stiff.
Combine the sugar/cream cheese mixture with the Dream Whip mixture. Put ½ of this mixture into the 9×13 pan and spread evenly. Put the remaining mixture to the side for later.
Pour pie filling on next and top with remaining Dream Whip mixture and then remaining graham cracker mixture.
Note: There are MANY variations on this dessert as I mentioned earlier. Two that I’ve tried involved using chocolate graham crackers or Pecan Sandies for the crust.
8 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese grated (NOT pre-grated)
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
7-8 ounces jarred roasted red peppers finely diced
3 Tbsp high quality mayonnaise (I use Duke’s, but that can’t be found locally)
½ tsp red pepper flake
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large bowl, stir together cheeses, red peppers, mayonnaise, and red pepper flake.
Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
Ashley Montgomery is a native Southerner with a deep love for collard greens, hot buttered biscuits and sweet tea. She married a boy from Maine, works at UMF and calls Wilton her home. She loves cooking, feeding people, learning about other folk’s food traditions and will eventually stop being afraid of pressure cookers.