Looking for grape salad: A brief study to prove a point and demonstrate a few important elements of research by Katherine Arndt

You may have heard that grape salads are a staple dish served at Minnesota holiday gatherings (Andrews, DeSantis, & Weinstein, 2014). An informal pretest showed that none of us at the library had ever heard of the warm grape salad even though we have eaten holiday meals in Minnesota. So, we decided to do a little research of our own.

Null hypothesis: Grape salads are a staple Minnesota food.


Owen, Gao and Vanessa spent a full thirty minutes scouring the Trimble Cookbook collection for any sign of a recipe containing grapes, sour cream, and brown sugar, and requiring the use of a torch or broiler.

Our specially trained* team of researchers (Owen, Gao and Vanessa) pulled books off the shelves willy-nilly as the book spines caught their eye. They checked the indexes for “grape salad,” and quickly rifled through the books scanning for “grape salad.” They did not check each other’s work, but placed books they looked through to the side of a table before painstakingly placing them back on the well-ordered shelves.


They found one grape salad recipe. However, it was not exactly the same as the New York Times recipe.



One grape salad recipe was found that contained all the ingredients from the New York Times grape salad recipe. While it may seem that the existence of this recipe proves the freakish taste for warm sour cream and grapes attributed to Minnesotans, the salad in this recipe is not served warm. Therefore according to Amber (neutral party), the criteria for the grape salad were not met.

Our research failed to disprove the null hypothesis.

We did come away with the following insights:

  1. Without digitizing the Trimble collection Gao and Owen would need more than 30 minutes to search every cookbook in the collection.
  2. Grape salads do exist, though whether they are served heated was not disproven.

If both Gao and Owen feel very strongly about grape salad being a staple Minnesota food then the results could be compromised by the criteria the researchers used to select grape salad recipes (experimenter bias). Also, if they do not agree on the criteria for grape salad (does it have to be warm, or stirred with a wooden spoon) then all sorts of shenanigans might ensue. For instance, Owen might conclude that a grape salad with bacon, honey, and mayonnaise that is cooked in a microwave constitutes the grape salad in question. This would be stretching the grape salad recipe a bit. Conversely, Gao might only accept grape salads which match the exact recipe put forth by Ashlock, so that a recipe calling for the addition of marshmallows would be rejected. To guard against these scenarios Gao, Owen, Vanessa and a neutral party reached consensus on whether or not the recipe fit the research definition.


More research is needed to discover whether or not grape salad is indeed a Minnesota food “thing.” It is recommended that future researchers spend more than 30 minutes rifling through cookbooks. More precise methods where the words “rifle” and “willy-nilly” are not included in the descriptions are probably a good idea.

*Training consisted of a 30 second conversation where the three of them decided to go look for grape salad recipes in the archives stating, “With three of us looking we’re sure to find some grape salad goodness!”

Andrews, W., DeSantis, A., & Weinstein, E. (2014, November 18). The United States of Thanksgiving. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/11/18/dining/thanksgiving-recipes-across-the-united-states.html

grape dessert recipe

title page grape desert cookbook

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