My Mom’s Pineapple (or Cherry) Cha-Cha
I was getting a bit flustered last week — the Castoff Kitchen clock was winding down and I was out of ideas. So I fired a text to my daughter in Ottawa, and she went for brunch with my brother, and the two of them came back with this: “Make Cherry Cha-Cha for your blog.”
Cherry Cha-Cha. It has the best name of the entire dessert world, and has been a family favourite for as long as I can remember. My mom says she got the recipe from a neighbour in the early 1970s and — because it was quick to make and required only a few ingredients (graham crumbs, mini marshmallows, whipped cream and cherry pie filling) — it showed up regularly at community league functions, church dinners and Sunday night suppers at home.
“The one who loved the Cha-Chas the most was your Dad. He loves all the desserts I make,” says Margie. “I mostly made the cherry, as that was the recipe she gave us. Then in later years I tried other fruits but none worked as well. Then I did the pineapple and that is my favourite.”
Some of the other “family favourites” from Margie’s kitchen are her brisket (“Treat it like a hot dog!” ) and her spaghetti sauce. My son called today looking for the brisket recipe, and almost every dinner I’ve had at brother Doug’s includes vats of mom’s spaghetti sauce.
But though I have partaken in hundreds of Cha-Chas, I’ve never made one. Curious, I reached out to the siblings with a mini Cha-Cha survey. Did you love it or hate it? What was your favourite flavour? And, as an adult, have you ever made it?
The survey says …
- Love it or hate it
- 83% say they loved it. (That’s everyone but me, and mostly because I disliked that cherry pie filling. I eventually become somewhat fond of the pineapple version.)
- Fave flavour
- Pineapple, 50%. “Rice pudding was always good, too. And those rolls 😀”
- Cherry, 33%
- Blueberry, 17%. “OMG, I never remember mom making blueberry!!! I would have loved that too.”
- Have you ever made it?
- Once or more, 33%. “I never seem to have whip cream or marshmallows in stock.”
- Never, 50%. “But wish I could.”
- Non-committal, 17%.“Good Q!”
Disclaimer: Two sisters and three brothers responded to the email survey. The sample was not large enough to calculate a margin of error.
With the statistics looking grim — and the future of this family favourite looking grimmer — I went shopping. For marshmallows, whipping cream, graham cracker crumbs and canned pineapple tidbits. The kids came over for an early Easter dinner and we had turkey, prime rib, potatoes, beets, Brussels sprouts — and for dessert, a Pineapple Cha-Cha which was well-received by all.
I asked mom how many cha-chas she figures she has made. “To say I have probably made hundreds is no lie,” she replied.
I’ve got some catching up to do. But on the bright side, I’m already well ahead of Mr. Non-Committal and Mr. Wish I Could.
Come on, fellas, you know the drill. One, two, cha-cha-cha.
Kitchen Castoff Used
None. I actually had to go shopping for all the key ingredients, but what the heck. It is for a good cause.
This is how we did it
- 2 cups crushed graham wafers, or graham crumbs
- 1/3 cup melted butter or margarine
- 500 ml whipping cream
- 3 – 4 cups white miniature marshmallows
- 14 oz can drained pineapple tidbits or crushed pineapple
Lightly butter a 9″x13″ glass baking dish. Combine the graham crumbs and melted butter or margarine, then spread half on the bottom of the dish, packing down a bit to form a crust.
Whip the cream in a large bowl. (For best results, chill the bowl and beaters in the freezer beforehand.) Fold in the marshmallows and let stand for a few minutes. Pour half the mixture on top of the graham crumb crust.
Spread the pineapple over the marshmallow mixture. You can substitute other fruit fillings, such as cherry, blueberry, sliced strawberries. Spread the rest of the marshmallow mixture on the fruit, then top with the remainder of the graham crumbs.
Refrigerate for a few hours before eating. The textures blend together nicely if made the day before.
Suggestions from our kids: Simon had never had this before and really liked it — it’s light and not too sweet. Sam thought it could do with extra fruit in the middle, liked fresh raspberries or slice strawberries. And Jake figured it would be worth dividing the graham crumbs into thirds, and adding a layer of them with the fruit to add more texture.
Curious about my “Kitchen Castoffs” concept? Here’s the explainer describing my 100-day project.
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