the Recipe Series: Grandma Sue’s shrimp cocktail

1lb of baby shrimp

1lb of imitation crab

2 bottles of del monte ketchup

1/3rd cup water in each ketchup bottle shaken to get all the excess out.

Heaping Tablespoon chili powder

Tablespoon horseradish

2.5 cups minced celery

Bunch of green onions (tops and bottoms)

Juice of one lemon


All of my life every single holiday was about the food. My mom’s side of the family is full of cooks and bakers and candy makers. And while, my hands down favorite family holiday meal was and still is Christmas morning breakfast; there is one staple that needs to be at every holiday was Christmas to Thanksgiving to Fourth of July:

My grandma Sue’s shrimp cocktail.

She made it every year, for every holiday and served it in a gigantic glass jar that she had from who knows when and then we would eat it in Dixie cups with tiny little shrimp forks and bowls and bowls of ritz crackers (always name brand ritz never generic).

Growing up I didn’t think we were a family that had traditions.

But now, as this is the second Christmas in a row that I haven’t curled up on the puzzle piece couch sipping my coffee as us adults clammer for breakfast first and the kids want presents, I see that we are indeed, a family with traditions.

Someone always forgets the salsa for the tamales and when my grandma was alive she would pull out a half used container of old salsa, my father always shaves his beard after we eat breakfast, there is at least one prep heavy dish that someone walks through the door with not made an hour before dinner. My mother always supplies socks for all my male cousins. My Aunt Ann usually gives me a gift that makes me cry. My aunt Sue brings all of my favorite Christmas cookies. My Aunt Marie always makes sure we have trader joes chocolate milk. And aunt Marie would also make sure everyone got out on the front porch for a picture even with all the complaining.

Christmas in the big blue house on 21rst was a magical homey event even with stress and drama and everything that comes with a big family holiday.

My grandma didn’t give the recipe to my mom until about 2009. She then, watched her make it for three years to see if she was doing it right. And I guarantee when she gave the recipe to my mom it wasn’t with exact measurements, or how much it would actually make.

And as much as I love my mom, the shrimp cocktail hasn’t ever tasted the same. And if I’m being honest–even though I know how to make it now, I don’t know if I ever will. Because there is something about the huge recycled jar, and the Dixie cups and the ritz in the brown bowls.

Because sometimes, having family recipes aren’t for the remaking of them. It’s the knowledge that I could if I needed too. But mainly, it’s the five minutes on the phone with my mom telling me how to make it, it’s the memories of my grandma in her apron scooping it out in Dixie cups only after pulling out the big wooden box with the tiny forks in it.

Christmas for me, is about traditions that I didn’t realize were traditions until I missed out on them. Like my grandmas shrimp cocktail, or sitting on the puzzle piece couch with coffee, or drinking tangerine juice out of the metal glasses.

As I’ve moved out and now am spending my first Christmas with my own “family” and am starting new traditions with people in my life I find myself most grateful for all of the things that came before it.

I miss my Grandma Sorenson the most during Christmas. She passed away a little under three years ago. Every moment of Christmas makes me think of her and her house and her shrimp cocktail.

Like I said, I may never ever make this shrimp cocktail. But one day, when I have a husband and a family, and we have a Christmas party that night and I have no idea what to make, I might sift through the archives of my mind and mix this together and grab some ritz crackers on the way and think of my grandma Sue and Christmas morning spent on her blue and green puzzle piece couch.
Merry Christmas my friends. Take a moment to bookmark traditions that you’ve never deemed traditions and hold onto them. And maybe, just maybe, make your own.

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