Every family has a recipe that everybody makes on certain holidays. It has been in the family for at least a generation or so, and is expected. This is one of those recipes, and is one of my favorites.
The big problem was that it never came out for me. My grandmother made it, and my mother and aunts and uncles all made it, but mine never turned out. It would layer oddly and lump and was just not that great, certainly not as great as I remembered.
That's because everyone already knew how to make it, so their recipes weren't complete...or even the same. They were just reminders. Check out my mom's version and my uncle Jim's version. I hadn't watched it being made, at least not closely, so the recipes didn't remind me of anything. This year (2008) I decided to fix it. The recipe below works and doesn't assume you watched someone else make it during your childhood.
Put the ginger ale in a mixing bowl and sprinkle the jello across the top. Let it sit for 5 minutes to soften the gelatin. Stir to mix, then add the boiling water and mix, making sure it all dissolves.
Drain the juice from the pineapple into a sauce pan. I dump the pineapple into a screen colander on top of the pan. Set the pineapple aside. Add the sugar and tapioca and bring to a simmer, stirring until it thickens and the tapioca is clear. Let cool for a few minutes, then mix into the gelatin. Put the gelatin mixture into the refrigerator until it is beginning to set, but not completely gelled. Think wet slush. Once the mixture is starting to set, put it in a mixing bowl. Add the pineapple and mix through. I use a rubber spatula. I want it mixed through, but I'm not beating it to a pulp. No machines. Fold in the whipped cream, in thirds. The first third you can just incorporate as best as you can. The next third go easy and fold it gently...again, no heavy mixing. Same with the last third and just before you're done, fold in the chopped walnuts. When everything is reasonably consistent (some streaks of whipped topping won't hurt, but it should be pretty uniform over all), pour into a mold, if you are going more fancy, or a bowl if you are just going to serve it, and return to the refrigerator until set. Unmold (if that was your choice) and serve. MMMMMmmmmmm