A Repurposed Childhood Recipe for Adult Consumption
Children growing up in the 80’s and 90’s often enjoyed sugar, preservatives and red dyes with little parental pushback. Every family picnic of my childhood featured a dessert called Cherry Yum Yum, a layered confection with crushed graham crackers, cherry pie filling, and dream-whip-cream-cheese topping. Basically, sugar in a bowl with a hefty dose of red dye.
My brother, who has ADHD, would eat a serving and run circles like a coked-out circus performer. My mother, who was before her time, recognized the causal effect and limited our Kool-Aid, Popsicle and Cherry Yum Yum intake to special occasions. Therefore, despite having near zero nutritional value, Cherry Yum Yum holds a sweet spot in my most nostalgic memories of childhood.
Years had passed since I last tasted the sugary goodness of the Yum Yum. Then, completely by accident, my mom and I designed a martini that mimics the sweet tartness of our beloved dessert.
As usually happens in my family, this happy discovery was completely unintended and resulted from a total lack of planning. My parents fly by the seats of their pants. “When you’re with the Hivelys,” my best friend often said when she accompanied us on trips, “expect anything.” Their lack of planning drove me bat-shit crazy for years, but still, I have to admit, it made for a memorable childhood.
Anyone who knows me will agree that I’m a planner, very much at odds with the people who raised me. I’m someone who writes down a menu of meals for the week based on the sale items in the circular, purchases all the necessary ingredients, and typically has a meal prepared within the same thirty-minute window each day. I live by a schedule. It may not be an exciting one, but it works for me.
Despite a near compulsive need to plan, I bought zero libations in preparation for my parent’s last visit to New Jersey. My dad is a bit “particular” when it comes to his alcohol. And, since I know basically nill about wine, I figured I’d wait and let him choose.
“Do you want to come with me to get wine for dinner?” I asked my parents soon after they arrived.
“We don’t need anything,” they said, clearly exhausted from navigating the perils of 95 North.
Of course after dinner, Mom dropped a hint about cocktails.
“Well,” I said, trying not to sound exasperated so soon after their arrival, “I have Bailey’s and whipped cream vodka from a failed S’mores martini recipe.”
“I have cherry juice,” Mom offered. Yes, my mother travels with all-natural cherry juice, yogurt, bananas, pillows, blankets, and a Tempur Pedic mat. Of her many redeemable qualities, packing light is not one of them. She may not be a planner in most respects, but the woman loads the car for Armageddon with each overnight trip.
Since I lost what little alcohol tolerance I had after having children, Mom carefully measured the vodka and juice. I shook it all together in a martini shaker with my best Tom Cruise impression, and we sipped.
“What does this remind me of?” Mom asked.
“Cherry Yum Yum,” I said. “All we need is a graham cracker rim.” My mind was already wandering to the box of graham crackers and the jar of Fluff (again, failed S’mores martini) in my kitchen cabinet.
And so was born the adult-only version of Cherry Yum Yum:
Cherry Yum Yum Martini
1 part Whipped Cream Vodka
3 parts Cherry Juice (or more depending on your tolerance levels)
Optional: Rim the martini glass with Fluff and press into crushed graham crackers
As we sipped our creation, I thought about how exciting life with my parents was compared with the scheduled lives of my children. Perhaps, I thought, I should fly by the seat of my pants more. Maybe I should let my kids eat some red dye and run around like coked-out circus performers until 10PM.
So, on our trip to Virginia a couple weeks later, I asked my mom to make Cherry Yum Yum with my girls (The fact that we all travelled back and forth within a ten-day time period speaks volumes to the planning capacity of my entire family).
B and E happily mashed graham crackers in my mom’s kitchen and waited in gleeful anticipation for their first bite of Cherry Yum Yum. My mother lovingly created each layer and artfully arranged it in crystal compote.
“This is gross,” B said, pushing her serving away.
E, who inherited her father’s bizarre aversion to sweets, turned her nose up at it as well.
“Oh well,” I said, digging in. “More for me.”
After a few spoonfuls, it felt like a five-pound bag of sugar had fallen into stomach. I kept eating, because you can’t waste a good Yum Yum, no matter how it makes you feel later. Still, next time, I might suggest we leave the kids out of it and make the adult version.