Surprised by the broccoli salad

A month ago, we went on a quest for a great broccoli salad to serve at our free community drive-thru lunch. Several tasty suggestions were shared, but we chose this recipe from the collection of a 102-year-old woman who lived in Kenbridge, Virginia. We didn’t expect all of our 90 guests to like it, but the salad was a drive-thru hit!

Read the recipe, and then read the “rest of the story” after the recipe.

Momma Helen’s Broccoli Salad

Serves 8-10

  • 2 bunches of broccoli or broccoli crowns, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 1/4 to 1 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Store sliced broccoli in zipped storage bags in the refrigerator until needed. Toast almonds; cool and store in zipped storage bag. Mix last three ingredients into a dressing and store in refrigerator.

When ready to serve, combine broccoli, almonds, onions, and raisins. Toss with dressing. Serve within an hour or two.

The rest of the story

How did we know we wanted a broccoli salad? And why was this broccoli salad so popular?

Our free drive-thru meal is based at Norwood United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. After deciding to serve ham and pinto beans for our January 30 lunch, we searched for a cold menu item including a vegetable that’s reasonably priced in winter. We also like to give our guests a fresh dose of nutrition where we can. Broccoli!

My social-media friends sent delicious recipe suggestions for broccoli salad, most including raisins and chopped onions. Other recipes included sunflower seeds, walnuts, cheese, red peppers, or olives. Some friends suggested mayonnaise-based dressings, while others said they like to dress their broccoli concoctions with ranch, Italian, or a vinegar-olive oil mix. Several recipes included bacon.

The salad we ultimately used came from a box of recipe cards cherished by Martee Buchanan, daughter of Helen Buchanan and director of the Wesley Foundation at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.

“My mother was an excellent cook but she hated to cook,” says Martee. “She thought it was the biggest waste of time.” Helen passed away at the age of 102 in 2016.

Martee advised us to cut the broccoli “into very tiny pieces. I use very little stem and cut the pieces no larger than my thumbnail … It takes a while, but it’s worth it. It lets the yummy dressing get into every piece.”

Martee says she often uses light mayonnaise and Splenda in place of the sugar to create a lighter recipe — but not us! We went for Duke’s mayonnaise and might have added a little more sugar than called for. We expected many of our guests to take a pass. Instead, we sent this salad home with all but one. Thanks, Momma Helen!

Above: Scenes from our drive-thru food ministry at Norwood United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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