Jell-O: What’s not to love?

Family dinners, pot lucks, buffets–they always feature at least one Jell-O salad. Something red with marshmallows and fruit — or green with pineapple and whipped cream — or at holidays — 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?

Years ago 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? One of my favorites is strawberry pretzel dessert.

My easy strawberry shortcake recipe goes like this:  Bake an angel food cake from a mix. Slice strawberries, mix up a box of  strawberry Jell-o, pour both over the cake and refrigerate. Smear with Cool Whip. You’d think I’d done something brilliant, because this is always a hit.

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?

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

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10 thoughts on “Jell-O: What’s not to love?”

  1. Well I have to say that the strawberry pretzel dessert is one of my favorites and I take it to a lot of family dinners and such and it always goes over well.

  2. Who doesn’t love Jell-O? We used to make it all the time, but since the children have grown and moved on to their own families, I don’t make it that often. I love the 7 layer Jell-O salad, but have never taken the time to make it. I always hope someone else brings it to a pot luck or family get together.

    A few weeks ago we gave a piece of Jell-O to our 9 month old granddaughter. Watching her pick it up and experience the texture for the first time was priceless. She didn’t know what to make of it at first. Once she got uses to the squishiness, she had a grand time slapping it and smearing it all over the highchair tray.

    Thanks for the Jell-O history lesson and bringing back good memories.

  3. Me, too, Quilt Lady! It’s my fave.

    Patricia, my two year old granddaughter still won’t eat Jell-O. Won’t even consider it.

    Glad you liked the history!

  4. I love the 7-layer. I also like to make sugar-free with no-fat Cool Whip; it’s a diet dessert that’s still fun. I don’t know the pretzel one but bet I’d like it.

  5. Sometimes gelatin dishes are referred to as “congealed salad,” which doesn’t sound appetizing AT ALL.

  6. Interesting blog, Cher! Jello is so good. I fix the sugar free kind and eat that for a low calorie dessert. I have some in my fridge at this very moment. You can’t go wrong with Jello. My favorite way to occasionally eat it is poking holes in a cake and pouring it over the top. Luscious! The strawberry pretzel dessert sounds interesting. Combining two of my favorite things. Now, you’ve made me hungry. 🙂

  7. Liz, I will post it for you!

    Micki, congealed salad sounds disgusting. lol

    Linda, I’m always hungry. Fortunately, it’s date day and I’m off to lunch with my hubby. 🙂

  8. hi Cher, fab post and pix. I’m getting hungry! As a kid, I loved peach jello with bananas and lime jello with apples, bananas and walnuts.

    I have the jello Easter-egg mold somewhere. I thik I’ve used it once.

    I haven’t made this for a while but I learned it from a family friend. Drain two cans of bing cherries and mix the juice with enough water for the hot water part of jello. Use only red wine for the cold water part LOL. Use all the cherries in a ring mold. Delish. We called it Jane’s “Ball” Jello.

  9. J-E-L-L-O! Remembering a long ago commercial!! Love jello but not really fond of orang jello. That and clear broth just reminds me too much of my first hospital say many, many years ago.

    I have a recipe that I love that goes by several names at our house…broken glass, stained glass, and rainbow are some. I found it about 35 years ago in a free Jello cookbook. Over the years I have kind of made it mine with some minor changes but kids usually love it and never seem to mind sugar free, fat free.

  10. I spent a number of years in my first “food” job making huge pans of gelatin. One of the most difficult to make right was Under the Sea salad. A layer of green gelatin with pears toppled by a layer of green mixed with cream cheese. We even had a recipe for gelatin with green beans in it. I think we only made that once. Imagine that!

    I have a Jell-o mold I haven’t used yet. It’s a brain. I’m waiting for that special moment.

    My fave Jell=o is to mix a large carton of cottage cheese, a tub of cool whip and some fruit with a large box of dry gelatin. Let it sit for awhile and…yummy!

    I really enjoyed this food history lesson!

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