This time of year our thoughts turn to … JELL-O

With the holidays swiftly approaching, our thoughts turn to family dinners and special menus.  I’ll bet your Thanksgiving and Christmas tables hold at least one Jell-O salad.  Something red with marshmallows and fruit — or green with pineapple and whipped cream — or most likely of all — a cranberry mold.  Each of us remembers Jell-O from our earliest years.  It’s just always been there.  Open the little box, pour the granules into boiling water, and refrigerate.  What could be easier? 

Five or six years ago for Thanksgiving, I actually bought a fish bowl and created a seascape with blue gelatin and Gummy fish and Gummy worms.  It was a laborious task, took a mountain of Jell-O, and the kids all thought it was pretty weird.  Yeah, well, that’s me.  Every once in a while I still poke holes in a cake and pour Jell-O over it.  Chocolate cake with raspberry gelatin is my favorite.  How about that time-consuming seven-layer Jell-O?  This Thanksgiving we’ll be having our traditional strawberry pretzel dessert. 

Am I making you hungry?  Bringing back fond food memories?  We take gelatin for granted, but our forefathers–or foremothers–went through a much more complicated process to do what we do in minutes.

Before the turn of the century gelatin was a functional food item rather than a treat.  Since the days of ancient Greece, jellies and aspics had been used to bind, glaze, and also to preserve foods—like the canned hams we buy today.

To us gelatin is a dessert, but past cooks flavored their gelatins with vinegar, wine, almond extract, and other items to produce a tart product.  The foods they glazed were more often meats than sweets.

As long ago as the Renaissance, chefs took pride in constructing elaborate gelatin molds, and no dinner party was complete without at least one jelly construction worthy of the best modern-day wedding cake baker. In the nineteenth century, the most popular mold designs were castles and fortresses complete with doors, windows, and crenellated turrets.

Before this century, the glue needed for gelatin, called collagen, had to be laboriously extracted from meat bones. In the Middle Ages, deer antlers were a popular source of the glue; and later, calves’ feet and knuckles. Housewives in the nineteenth century used isinglass, made from the membranes of fish bladders.

Gelatin-making was a daylong affair, requiring the tedious scraping of hair from the feet, hours of boiling and simmering with egg whites to degrease and clarify the broth, and careful filtering through jelly bags or “filtering stools.” The transparent finished product was then dried into sheets, leaves, or rounds.

In 1890, Charles B. Knox of Jamestown, New York was watching his wife make calves’ foot jelly when he decided that a prepackaged, easy-to-use gelatin mix was just what the housewife needed. Knox set out to develop, manufacture, and distribute the granulated gelatin, while his wife invented recipes for the new kitchen staple.

In 1897, Pearl B. Wait, a NY carpenter and cough medicine manufacturer, developed a fruit-flavored gelatin. His wife, May Davis Wait, named his product Jell-O.  Because of the development of the icebox at the end of the century, America was ready for gelatin desserts.

Wait’s product found its way to few American tables before it was bought by the food tycoon Frank Woodward, who was already marketing a coffee and tea substitute named Grain-O.  Within a few years the genius in packaging, mass marketing, and advertising turned Jell-O into a household word. The 10 cent carton advertised a delicious dessert that was delicate, delightful, and dainty, and the Jell-O trademark of a young girl with carton and kettle in hand soon appeared on store displays, dishes, spoons, and other promotional articles.

To show the housewife how versatile the product was, Woodward’s company distributed free booklets with Jell-O recipes. One booklet alone ran to a printing of 15 million copies!

By 1925, Jell-O was a big-money industry. In that year Jell-O joined Postum to form General Foods, today one of the largest corporations in America.  By the 1930’s, Jell-O had become a way of life. No Sunday dinner was complete without a concoction known as Golden Glow salad, Jell-O laced with grated carrot and canned pineapple and served with gobs of mayonnaise.

Knox Gelatine tried to discourage the rush toward Jell-O with ads warning shoppers to spurn sissy-sweet salads that were 85 percent sugar. While Knox stressed the purity of their odorless, tasteless, sugarless gelatin, Jell-O highlighted their product’s versatility.

As for the belief that gelatin is good for the hair and nails, the only claim made by either Jell-O or Knox is that their product may do some good for some people’s hair and nails. Sugarfree gelatin is popular among dieters.


In the field of photography, gelatin was introduced in the late 1870s as a substitute for wet collodion. It was used to coat dry photographic plates, marking the beginning of modern photographic methods. Gelatin’s use in the manufacture of medicinal capsules occurred in the twentieth century.


Golden Glow Salad

1 package (3 ounces) orange gelatin

1 cup boiling water

1 can (8 ounces) crushed pineapple

1 tablespoon lemon juice Cold water

1/4 teaspoon salt, optional

3/4 cup finely shredded carrots


In a bowl, dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Drain pineapple, reserving juice. Add lemon juice and enough cold water to pineapple juice to make 1 cup; add salt if desired. Stir into gelatin. Chill until slightly set. Stir in pineapple and carrots. Pour into an oiled 4-cup mold; cover and chill until firm. Unmold.

Yield: 6 servings.


<—- Hold everything: You can buy Jell-O on amazon .com.

In my search I discovered Jell-O shots, Jell-O wrestling, Jell-O spokesperson Bill Cosby, Jell-O Jiggler eggs (the kids stepped on one of these on my carpet one Easter – not good) and of course Jell-O molds.


What is your favorite gelatin memory?

Do you have a standby recipe for holidays?

If you want to share, post your favorite Jell-O recipe for us.


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47 thoughts on “This time of year our thoughts turn to … JELL-O”

  1. My gramma always made a ring mold for holidays. Black Cherry jello on the bottom with lime jello on the top. She’d put dark, sweet cherries in the lime jello. Then for service the center was filled with cottage cheese.

    Another favorite is strawberry whip. Partially set jello, frozen strawberries and whipped topping all stirred up together. Yum.

    I’ve made a lot of gelatin in my years of cooking…and you haven’t lived 😛 until you’re making five gallons at a time! Okay, maybe you have. At one job they called your golden glow jello perfection salad. My name–imperfection.
    And then there was the one that had green beans in it! Ewww. Let’s just say we dumped a lot of that one. 🙂

  2. Love this Cheryl, especially since I live in Utah, the green jello capitol of the entire civilized world! (To do it up in the traditional way, you have to put grated carrots in it).
    No recipes to offer, although I inherited a whole book of them from my Mom. But I’ve been taking a Knox gelatin product as preventive maintenance for my joints for about 15 years and swear by it.
    Thanks for a great blog.

  3. Jell-O memories? The sad part is, I have a whole lot of them.

    I love that strawberry pretzel salad. Golden Glow salad was a family staple.

    But here are my two unfortunate strongest Jell-O memories…. I apologize.

    First, was the time my mom brought a green jello salad to a family holiday at my house…it had TUNA in it. Ewwwww… of course I’m being a jerk here because I didn’t taste it. For all I know it was delicious!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    The really sad part of that was my mother-in-law was there and she asked for the recipe.

    The rest of us … my husband and kids mostly were horrified to think now we’d be having green jello/tuna salad on both sides of the family at holidays………..

    And, wow, this is awful…my grandma was ummm i believe the polite word is…slipping…for years before she died. She probably spend the last decade of her life being increasingly forgetful. Repeating the same stories over and over. It was always touchy with her because she was an incredibly cranky, strong willed woman. She shouldn’t have been living alone. It was all just really hard deciding when to step in ‘cuz no one ‘stepped in’ on my grandma…it was a high risk business.

    So, one holiday (here’s the jello part) she brought a jello salad to the gathering-red Jello, fruit cocktail and a topping of mini-marshmallows. A classic. I took it from her and uncovered it….to find the lovely mini-marshmallows had been gnawed on and the salad was covered with mouse droppings.

    So, I’m insane. I’m a mouse-o-phobe freak. All my sisters, too. Five of us. Mom is almost as bad.
    My mom grabs the salad and takes it outside to dump it(we lived on a farm). I can still here the exact tone of my mom’s voice saying, “Get rid of it!” the horror. 🙂

    And then later, thanks to my grandma’s forgetfulness, we all made a nice fuss over how delicious her salad was and she never noticed it didn’t appear on the table.

  4. I love your post, Cheryl. As a kid, we only rec’d Jello as a treat with cake and ice cream at our birthday parties.

    But at my grandmothers on the farm, Mama would take a can of pears or peaches, add some gelatin to the juice and present it to us like that. It was about the only thing of hers I couldn’t eat. It reminded me of the stuff canned hams came in and I’d carefully dish out my fruit and clean around it.

    How about that time-consuming seven-layer Jell-O? I’ll have to dig out the recipe for this one. What is the white layer made from?

    Our fav way to eat Jell-o is from the Bill Cosby commercials. I pour it onto baking sheets and then use my cookie cutters in whatever theme we’re on.

  5. HI Cheryl!

    My favorite Jello memory is red jello with bananas in the middle. Also I love jello with cheescake. But outside of that I don’t use jello very much.

    I have found the unflavored KNOX gelatin to help with my hair and nails, however.

    Very festive post and pictures, Cheryl. : )

  6. *lizzie, I like cottage cheese with Jell-O or pudding! Did you learn any of your cooking skills from your grandma?

    Elizabeth, I was going to mention in my blog, but forgot, that Jell-O cookbooks are probably a staple in most households. Everybody gets one from somebody. LOL

    Oh, my goodness, Mary, what a story! You were all so kind to let Grandma think her Jell-O was a hit. Did anyone go home with her to make sure her house wasn’t being overrun? I mean, I can’t help thinking about this. Were the mice in her refridgerator?? If the Jell-o sat on the counter long, it would have melted. I’m overthinking….

  7. Cheryl oh my goodness Mary had me laughing on the floor here at work I really needed that thanks Mary. I was wondering to if you eat Jello now Mary????
    My memory of jello was my granmda made me the strawberry jello with banana’s and I sure miss that I can make it but it is not like hers…
    I think that recipe the golden glow salad is the one I have been looking for years I asked people and they said I have no idea what you are talking about and I didn’t know the name so I am so happy you posted it here on the blog I am going to have to make that.
    What about the strawberry pretzel salad I have it somewhere but with my computer crashing I lost some stuff and have not found it.
    Do you have a picture of the fish bowl you made? I am sure it was great to see it.

  8. Anita Mae, that white later has evaporated milk in it, doesn’t it? I’ll check and report back.

    Karen, my husband’s favorite is red Jell-O with sliced bananas. And, Anita Mae, he loves Jell-O with cake.

  9. The strawberry pretzel dessert was a staple at our Christmas & Thanksgiving dinners. Maybe a midwest thing? I make strawberry jello with sliced bananas and frozen strawberries all the time. My mom had the orange jello with grated carrots at most family functions.

    And, guess what? My daughter-in-law gave me a Jello cookbook for Christmas last year!

    Many happy memories. Thanks Cheryl.

  10. Good morning! At least it’s still morning here in CA. My mother always made Jello for dessert. I was partial to cherry. She served it with Cool Whip and before that, real whipped cream. Often she’d put fruit in it, bananas and sometimes strawberries, if we were lucky. Do you recall the package instructions saying NOT to put pineapple in the mix? I often wondered why not? And did that mean fresh pineapple or canned pineapple … am I delusional? I distinctly remember it saying NOT to use pineapple.

    Two Thanksgivings ago, I made the Cranberry Jello mold – I think it was your recipe, Cheryl. I loved it and all the adults liked it, but our kids who have swelled to 10 now, with boyfriends, husbands and cousins, and outnumber us, won’t let me change one Thanksgiving recipe. They only like cranberries from the can, molded. Can you believe that?

    Our kids don’t do Jello. This generation seems to only know Jello Shooters! I’d tasted them … very good and highly alcoholic. But I do remember making Jello Jigglers (Bill Cosby) for the kids when they younger.

    Great blog today. Brings back lots of memories!

  11. Oh, Betsy, I just had to laugh when your post came through and I read about the cookbook!

    I got the strawberry pretzel dessert from Aunt Lil originally. My mom never made anythng with cream cheese or sur cream. She put cubed Jell-O layered with whipped cream in etched crysal goblets for us, and that was a treat. A couple years ago I opened a little box she was shipping off to the disabled vets, and there were the crystal gobets. Jeesh, Mom! I kept them. Who knows what all I’ve missed her ditching over the years?

  12. Charlene, that cranberry relish is a keeper! I can’t find my recipe. LOL A lot of my standards got misplaced in the remodel and I still haven’t figured out where I stashed them.

    I remember the no pineapple, too! Why not?? Anyone know?

  13. Well, I’ve never had a jell-o shooter, but I did make the fish bowl once. I had seen a pic of it in a women’s mag but didn’t think about actually doing it until I saw a container of blue whale gummies at Costco. Instead of a fish bowl, I used our punch bowl – and yes – it took a tremendous amt of pkgs! The hard part was getting the whole thing to gel evenly so that the whales didn’t all sink or float en masse. When it was done, however, it looked terrific. We took it as a dessert for the church picnic which was during the evening b/c we have a campfire.

    It had taken almost 2 days to make this thing and the first few bowls were great. But, there was still some left when we took it home. (Small church) And, what we found when we scooped some out the next day, was the gummies had started to disintigrate into a slimy mess. eeew I think I threw the last couple cups away that night.

  14. Oh Cheryl, the fishbowl sounds amazing…and kinda uneatable LOL. This was a great blog to read. Jello was an absolute staple while I was growing up, both nightly at home and on special occasions. I confess I rarely make it anymore…but one family classic was Aunt Jane’s Ball Jello…using giant canned black cherries and the only liquid was wine, cherry juice from the can, no water. Yep, you even heated the wine/cherry juice for the boiling part.

    Oh Mary, as always, you’ve got me laughing out loud.

  15. My grandma lived in a old country farm house, mice were a fact of life, though I don’t know if she was overrun. I do believe she set the jello out on her enclosed but unheated front porch to chill. Which is better than if she’d taken it to bed with her, I guess. Better for setting, better for the mice infestation situation.

    Yes, I eat Jell-O. IF I’d’ve quit eating everything my Grandma made gross in her old age, well, I wouldn’t be in my generally oval shape…so maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

    I once made Jell-O with bananas for dinner with my inlaws coming over. My father in law loved Jell-o with bananas.
    Well, something happened and they couldn’t come so I left the Jell-O in the fridge for about three days until they COULD come.

    Slightly before they got there, I pulled out the Jell-O salad and……………..

    age and bananas do NOT mix.
    Eeesh, ick, ewwwww…blackened bananas.

    I threw it out and acted innocent all through the meal. 😀

    No, there was never a Jell-O salad to go with this meal…….

  16. My mother-in-law makes a really beautiful red, white and green salad for Christmas. The white layer is in the middle and it’s got cream cheese or something wonderful in it. Very festive.

  17. Hey, I know about the no-pineaple rule. No RAW pinapple. There’s something in the acidic pineapple that keeps the geletin from setting.

    I might be making that up. I seem to remember it, though.

  18. Hey Mary – you gonna share the recipe for this really beautiful red, white and green salad for Christmas. The white layer is in the middle and it’s got cream cheese or something wonderful in it. Very festive.


  19. Cheryl,

    I love jello! It’s one of my favorite things to eat. I make this one using cottage cheese and cool whip. It’s really easy and versatile.

    Open up a can of fruit cocktail or pineapple or mandarian oranges. It can be any fruit. Drain it well and dump into a mixing bowl. Pour a large package of any flavor jello (dry) over the fruit and stir well. Mix in a large container of cottage cheese (preferably small curd) and add a container of whipped cream. Stir all that until blended together. Add a half cup of pecans if you wish. Put in fridge for at least an hour before serving.

    It’s very simple and really delicious. It’s a customary dish on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    Great blog! I learned so many things about jello that I didn’t know.

  20. Mary – actually, I’ll look for it myself. I have so many cookbooks that it would take awhile to find the Jell-o ones but that’s me being lazy.

    So, I’ll let you off the hook and let you spend your time writing. 🙂

    Speaking of recipes, Cheryl – I really like your recipe blog although I don’t think I’ve commented there yet.

  21. Oh c’mon, make the recipe up yourself, Anita Mae.

    I seriously don’t know it.
    Red layer….Strawberry Jell-O
    White layer…lemon jello with sugar and cream cheese, or whipped cream, or sour cream or yogurt? I think sugaring whatever white filler you use is the secret.
    Green Layer…lime.

    okay, I found this for a white layer…I looked on…….they go pretty nuts over there with Jell-O


    1 c. heavy cream
    1/2 c. sugar (here’s the sugar!)
    1 pkg. gelatin(? Mary here, what’s that mean? Like KNOX unflavored? )
    1/4 c. water
    1 c. sour cream
    1 tsp. vanilla

  22. Who knew a Jell-O blog could be this fun? Great idea, Cheryl!

    You really did take us down memory lane. I think I’ve had every jell-o recipe mentioned here today! The first time I tasted Strawberry Pretzel, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. That was what? 25 years ago?

    This is my *2nd* favorite jell-o recipe–see my next comment!

  23. Cherry Jell-O Salad

    2 pkgs cherry jell-o
    1 can cherry pie filling
    3 cups hot water
    1/4 cup milk
    10 big marshmallows
    3 oz. cream cheese
    4 1/2 oz Cool Whip

    11 3/4 x 7 1/2 pan

    Mix jello, hot water, and pie filling. Put in pan and let set.

    Dissolve marshmallows and milk over low heat. Cool. When cooled, add cream cheese and whip together. Add Cool Whip. Spread on top of set jello. Sprinkle nuts on top.

  24. I never knew that Jell-O could be so fascinating! I loved the history. Now I’ve got a craving for it, LOL. I’ll have to try out one of these recipes. Thanks Cheryl!

  25. My family’s favorite jello recipe is from a Joys of Jello cookbook (I have more than one issue). Can’t remember the actual name because my kids renamed it broken glass salad. It is made with several colors of jello cut into squares in a lemon jello and coolwhip base and it is huge so everyone loves to have me bring it. It is work tho so I seldom make it for just my husband and me.

  26. Just wanted to say, mmmmm, Jello!! My kids do really enjoy that laboriously layered finger jello, but I often just don’t have the patience to make it!

  27. I first remember having the Golden Glow salad at
    my MIL’s after Honey & I were married. Another
    favorite is the orange gelatin, pineapple, and
    shredded cheese salad made by my daughter’s FIL.
    Also the poke cakes in colors to match the holiday.
    Your chocolate cake with raspberry gelatin sounds
    very good – I just added it to our Thanksgiving

    Pat Cochran

  28. We used to have ‘broken glass salad’ with colored jello and whipped cream.

    and no, my grandma never used real broken glass Praise the Lord.

    When we were kids my mom would serve us hot jello as a drink when we had bad colds or after we started mending from the flu. I still love hot jello as a drink.

  29. Here’s another Jell-O memory.

    When I was a young bride, I made Jell-O.
    Jello in bowl
    Hot water in bowl
    Cold water in bowl.


    Oops. I was supposed to mix BEFORE the cold water.
    So the jello didn’t work.

    As an aside, let me say, my mom is the most supportive, encouraging woman on the planet. If one of her eight children spilled ketchup on her white sofe (theoretic white sofa, the woman was too smart to own a white sofa) she’d see abstract art.

    I helped her make a greeting card on her computer eight years ago and the word GENIUS is still right on the tip of her tongue. The woman is just unbelievably nice and she sees her children with stars in her eyes, bless her heeart.

    I was looking for reassurance that this whole housewife thing still had a prayer of panning out for me, so the next time I was talking to my mom and said, “You know what dumb thing I did?”

    My mom listened to my saga of Jello and then said, “That really was dumb.”

    Honesty trumped ‘supportive’ when it came to my inability to follow the incredibly complex recipe on the Jell-O box.


  30. ‘Broken Glass Salad’ was the only Jell-o recipe other than the Jigglers than I made. And, it’s only the Jigglers I’ve made in recent years. Not sure why.

  31. Pat, I don’t think I’ve ever had orange, pineapple and shredded cheese. That’s a new one to me. I’m not a big cheese fan.

    “That really was dumb” is pretty funny, Mary, especially coming from the woman who sees no wrong.

  32. It would never have entered my head to drink Jell-O. It’s basically sugar water. Does it actually have any protein, even though it’s made from protein products? I need to read a box.

  33. My mom always mixed it with cream cheese and fruit. And when we were sick we always got liquid jello to drink. My girls weren’t thrilled with it lol.

  34. OMG, I love this post, Cheryl!! All those pics are making me hungry — love that pic with teh kewpie dolls *g* When my kids were little I was the Jello Jiggler mom–all occassions called for jigglers; red candy canes, green trees, orange pumpkins, purple bats, pink bunnies and even eggs–a whole jello egg. Loved those egg molds and they were fun to eat. The rest were cut out with cookie cutters, but what my boys loved the most were the odd shapes made from the scraps. We had a lot of fun finding shapes in those, kind of like cloud watching *lol* We’d take the cut out jigglers to school and they’d eat the scraps at home……fun times 🙂 I need to make jello and bring out those little boy grins again 😉

  35. When I was kid my mom would make jello popcicles–long before they offered them in the store–Mom’s were way better 😉 Homemade popcicles were a big thing in our house–the plastic keys that smapped over the cups and then set into the tray to hold them upright in the freezer. They were our favorite and my mom spoiled us 😉

  36. My mom gave us hot jello when were feeling puny too, Mary. I’m starting to feel like a bad mom–gonna have to do that the next time my boys sick…even though they tower over me, I bet it would at least make them smile 😉 Jello is definitely a perk-you-up kind of food!

  37. My husband’s family does one involving jello, cottage cheese and *horseradish*. They call it Iowa Salad, because family legend is they found the recipe in some piece of furniture in Iowa, but I always call it Atomic Salad, because it has this… radioactive buzz on the tongue.

  38. When we were kids in Catholic grade school, we used to help the nuns get the classrooms cleaned and ready for the coming school year. It was August and still hot outside and the nuns would bring us drinks. Was I surprised when I found out it was Jello that had not been chilled! We had Jello at home but were NEVER allowed to drink the sweet nectar. It felt like a sin to drink it, but hey, the nuns wouldn’t cause us to sin, right? To this day (I’m 67 years old), I love drinking Jello, but do so only occasionally. It sure takes me back to those old days.

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