Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Joys of Jell-0™


I have had a love-hate relationship with instant gelatin since I was a child. It was often given to us when we were ill and I remember particularly unappetizing red squares of it served in our school's cafeteria on a regular basis (with a dollop of fake, hardened whipped cream on top).

Years ago in the late 1980s, at a Halloween party I threw in the servants' quarters of a Victorian house museum where I lived and worked in Boston, I made a "Dead Yuppie Jell-O". I poured yellow Jell-O into a glass Pyrex™ pie dish, let it gel slightly, and then I placed small, inert, and well-clad plastic Yuppy-looking Barbie/Ken style dolls from Woolworth's. They were lying down, dead you see, and in between them I placed a Rambo-ish guy holding a gun. Eventually the gelatin mixture hardened and the Jell-O art lived in our attic in New Hampshire for a while until it was finally pitched. [Yes, I admit, the whole thing was warped. But fun!]

Now at Easter and other occasions I will make Jell-O salads and molds in various concoctions. In reading old issues of AMERICAN COOKERY (originally THE BOSTON COOKING-SCHOOL MAGAZINE), which was in existence from the late 1800s-1940s, there are scads of recipes for all manner of gelatin and fancy molded salads. Jellies and aspics were more elaborate Victorian holdovers and often served on their own in a large, multi-coursed dinner.

A few years ago I discovered a recipe, blogged in another entry [see: "Five Cup Salad ~ Ambrosia of the God(desse)s!", in the April 2005 archives-April 25, 2005], in a cookbook by Jan and Michael Stern. It is the closest thing to AMBROSIA (made by a neighbor who won't part with her recipe) that I've had:

1 cup mini-marshmallows
1 cup shredded pineapple, drained
1 cup mandarin orange sections, drained
1 cup coconut
1 cup sour cream

Mix, chill and serve.

[Another great recipe is the ORANGE GELATIN or MOUSSE that Neiman Marcus served in their restaurants: I remember lunches at their Boston restaurant, now gone, with my friend Di and her mother Liz. We'd have the chicken salad, popovers with strawberry butter, and the orange mousse, and iced tea. I will have to try to find that recipe--it used to be posted on their website about 10 years ago, but now they have an expensive cookbook. I printed it out and it is somewhere in one of my recipe clipping boxes--and I mean BOXES (I have neat pantries, usually, but I could use a few months to sort recipes and photos.) As I recall it has orange juice, cream and gelatin in it, among other things, and it is smooth and creamy, light and orangey.]

Jello 1

But imagine my joy when I received in my e-mail today an image of the LIME JELL-O SALAD recipe my mother gave to her friend Twila Baker back in Akron days. [I still keep in touch with Mrs. Baker and our Christmas tree is adorned with dozens of handmade felt ornaments she has given to me over the years.] My mother has a REUBEN SANDWICH recipe from Mrs. Baker on the same recipe card--I recognized that funky 1970s pantry motif right away. Oddly, I don't remember this recipe or my mother ever having made it (the recipe is in Mrs. Baker's hand). She writes: "I remember the pink kitchen, and your mother serving this recipe at a luncheon in the dining room." I suspected it was for the occasional ladies' luncheon or church supper. Or one of those foods with too many things in it that I might have refused when I was a finicky child.

Here is the complete recipe (with thanks to Mom and Mrs. Baker):


Make according to package instructions:

1 large box lime Jello (using 2 cups water)
3 Tbsps. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt

Add when slightly set:

1/2 cubed apple
2 bananas
1 can drained crushed pineapple (save juice)


1/2 cup pineapple juice
1 Tbsp. flour
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 pint whipping cream (1 cup)

Cook first four ingredients in double boiler. Cool. Add cream, whipped. Spread on top of set Jello mixture. Put in icebox.


Peggy said...

This is no doubt a dumb question, but I need to ask as I LOVE pantries. Could I buy a copy of your book FROM you and then review it on my blog.

Catherine said...

Hi Peggy, I wasn't sure where to respond on your blog so I'll do so here. You can get a book at for less than I could sell it to you (with shipping etc.). Or, they are $16.95 through a bookstore: a great deal for a hardback book with color photographs and vintage images (and my text, of course!).

Thanks so much! I hope this reaches you as I wasn't sure how to e-mail you.

The book has been getting some great response with the well-connected blog community and I appreciate that.

Best, Catherine

the feathered nest said...

Hi Catherine, funny jello story! Just wanted to let you know that Brenda did a lovely review of your book on her blog


Mindy said...

Your photos remind me so much of my own childhood! Mom would make a Lime Jello salad with shiredded carrots and diced is still my favorite comfort food! I enjoy reading your blog...Have a great weekend..

Anonymous said...

Hi Catherine,
I just love your book. I bought it a couple weeks ago. I am a larder hound. Something about a well stock larder makes me smile.

Meredith said...

Catherine, I just found your blog through a mention of your book at Homespun Living.

Oh, what a treat your archives are! I am enjoying every minute of reading and your beautiful photos.

I read a LOT of homemaking blogs (new baby), and yours is one of the best.