During our weekly long-distance phone chat on Sunday, my sister-in-law, Julie, was describing her Easter dinner menu. "I wanted to put something different on the table, so I made a Jell-O salad, like the ones our moms made when we were kids. Remember?"
My first thought was, "Gag me with a spoon!"
My second thought was, "What were you thinking?"
Julie and I grew up in the heyday of Jell-O. It showed up as dessert, plain or with fruit embedded it in, or as a "chiffon pie," in which the Jell-O had been blended with whipped cream, and sometimes fresh berries, and poured into a pie crust. Jell-O was served cut up into cubes, spooned directly out of the bowl like flat scoops of ice cream or, my mom's favorite, slid out of individual-size molds. It also served as a salad when made with veggies.
We now get to two infamous words from the 1960s -- Jell-O mold. "Jell-O mold" was 1960s Mom-speak for a salad or dessert featuring Jell-O, and Lord only knows what else, chilled in a fancy mold. Once set, the mold was partially submerged in hot water for a few seconds and the formed Jell-O was slid onto a plate and then garnished. No kitchen at the time was complete without a set of copper Jell-O molds that hung on the wall.
As a child, the words "Jell-O mold" brought an image of mold, like what forms on old food, being served. The fact that many of the Jell-O creations used green lime gelatin only added to the horror.
The horror intensified when I looked up the word "gelatin" (one of the major ingredients in Jell-O) in the dictionary and discovered it was "a protein produced from collagen extracted from the boiled bones, connective tissues, and intestines of animals."
There was nothing more upsetting when I was a child than coming to the supper table and finding a slab of Jell-O salad sitting next to my plate. Oh wait, yes there was, although it was in the same vein as Jell-O -- a slab of tomato aspic with mayonnaise dressing on the side. I used to pray for lima beans instead -- and I detest lima beans.
Somewhere during the 1970s, Jell-O salads and desserts seemed to disappear. Actually, Jell-O itself seemed to disappear, well at least from my life ... although during my grad school days, I consumed my share of Jell-O shots, which call for the addition of alcoholic beverages to the powdered mix in place of water.
My next encounter with Jell-O wasn't for another 15 or so years, when our son discovered it at a buffet-style restaurant and couldn't get enough of it. Like my Mom, he considered it to be one of the major food groups. At that time, Jell-O was promoting "Jigglers," which were made with a more condensed Jell-O mixture that was molded into fun shapes, like Easter eggs, or cut with cookie cutters that were eaten as finger food.
Since my sister-in-law has me digging up Mom's Jell-O mold recipes, I'll share a couple here. Maybe Julie and I will create a Jell-O mold revival ... Lord, I hope not.
Confetti Coleslaw Parfait
1 package lime flavored gelatin
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup cold water
1 tablespoon vinegar
1/2 cup Miracle Whip (mayonnaise may be substituted)
1 cup chopped cabbage
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup sliced celery
1/3 cup raisins
1 cup crushed pineapple, drained
Dissolve lime gelatin in boiling water; stir in cold water and vinegar. Gradually add gelatin to Miracle Whip, mixing until well blended; chill until slightly thickened. Fold in cabbage, carrot, celery, raisins and pineapple; pour into 1-quart mold. Chill until firm.
Dissolve one 3-ounce package raspberry Jell-O and a pinch of salt in 1 cup boiling water, Add 2 teaspoons lemon juice. Chill until slightly thickened. Fold in 1 cup whole cranberry sauce, 1/2 cup drained crushed pineapple, 1/2 cup finely chopped celery and 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, Pour into oiled mold and chill.
2 1/2 cups boiling water (do not add cold water.)
2 packages (8-serving size each) Jell-O, any flavor
Stir boiling water into dry gelatin mix in large bowl at least 3 minutes until completely dissolved. Pour into 13x9-inch pan. Refrigerate at least 3 hours or until firm.
Dip bottom of pan in warm water 15 seconds. Cut into 24 decorative shapes using 2-inch cookie cutters, being careful to cut all the way through gelatin to bottom of pan. Lift Jigglers from pan. Reserve scraps for snacking. Store in tightly covered container in refrigerator.
And for my legal drinking-age readers ... Be careful -- these have a tendency to sneak up on you.
Basic Jell-O Shots
Approximately 20 shots
1 cup boiling water
1 2 cup vodka
1 2 cup flavored liquor/schnapps/Pucker
1 3-ounce box Jell-O
Mix all ingredients together and pour into paper or plastic shot glasses. Chill in refrigerator until firm.
Margarita Jell-O Shots: Lime Jell-O, tequila, triple sec and a splash of lime juice with the boiling water
Cosmopolitan Jell-O Shots: Cranberry Jell-O, vodka, triple sec and a splash of lime juice with the boiling water
Margaret Button is the city editor of the North Adams Transcript. Send recipes for inclusion in future columns to the North Adams Transcript, 85 Main St., Suite 2, North Adams, Mass. 01247 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.