Thursday, July 16, 2009

There's always room for Jell-o, isn't there?

You’ve heard the call, “Soups on!” You walk into the dining room and grab a plate, napkin, and silverware, prepared to dig in to the buffet. You’re ready because you skipped lunch, and you see a nice green salad, shrimp, lasagna, dinner rolls, maybe a sliced turkey or ham, and think, “This will be good. Glad I waited to eat.” And then you see it. There it is, right in the middle of the table, jiggling with every footstep within ten feet of the table. It’s green, of course—or orange, or red, maybe yellow. You look closely. It’s a circular tube of speckled transparency. What’s in it? It sits on a platter, curly lettuce peeking out from underneath. There’s a blob of something opaque occupying its center core. The blob might be white, or pink. Is it sweet? Is it sour? Who knows? You look up. She’s there, the aunt who made this, her eyes set on your plate, her round face beaming with pride. “Have some of Auntie’s Jell-o salad! Go on.” She’s watching. Anticipating. You have to take a slice, or is it a scoop? How do you cut this?

We have all, I believe, come face-to-face with the ubiquitous Jell-o mold. We have memories, fond or otherwise, of this buffet staple. Some have passed it by as a matter of practice. Others are intrigued, if not afraid, and bravely dive in. I prefer my Jell-o in its basest form, with nothing floating in it. Maybe a squirt of whipped cream on top. I don’t put vegetables in my ice cream or chocolate cream pie. Why would I float them in another dessert? And if I’m given the option, I prefer no Jell-o at all. Others disagree. Some are fascinated by this versatile salad/dessert ingredient.

For those who fear the Jell-o mold, Jen writes: "My mother is a fabulous cook, and loves to try new recipes, so she often rips potentials out of magazines. When I had just started going through my divorce, she was trying to make things that would remind me of good times in my life--French recipes to remind me of Paris, southern dishes as a shout out to numerous road trips, etc. I walked into her house one day to find her furiously cooking away. She said, 'I'm so excited about this one, you're really going to love it! The recipe's on the table.' I started reading and burst into tears/laughter. What in the world made her think I'd want a Jell-o mold that would ‘remind the diner of dill pickles and mint jelly?!’ Turns out she was making the pork dumplings on the reverse side of the page, but we still laugh til we cry every time someone mentions Jell-o!”

My high school friend Cindy writes of her experience:
“My grandmother use to make orange Jell-o, at least it tasted orange, but looked more like an amber color. She would some how float many different kinds of fruit in it. They always reminded me of specimens in jars at science lab .She would then spread orange tinted whip cream on top. This was the best part—it was real whip cream. EVERYONE raved when she brought it. I fondly remember scraping dishes after dinner, only to find out everyone else was grossed out by it too. I guess no one had the heart to tell her because whenever she came to dinner or we went to her house.....THERE IT WAS, right in the middle of the dinner table. That was so many years ago but I still remember that yucky taste it left in my mouth. We all loved her dearly. Rest in peace Grandma Hoag.”

Another good friend, Michelle, provided the inspiration for this post. She was speaking of her family’s traditional version—it was green—and generously shares their unique (maybe not?) recipe here. She tells of the relative who brought this salad to every single family dinner. She remembers liking it a lot as a kid, and isn’t sure but thinks she might still like it. If this recipe brings back fond memories of your family’s unique Jell-o salad, try it. I’m watching. Go on!

Michelle’s Family Jell-o Salad:

1small package lime Jell-o
1 c. crushed pineapple, drained
1 1/2 c. cottage cheese
1 1/2 - 2 tbsp. horseradish
1/2 c. salad dressing (recipe to follow)

Make Jell-o according to package directions. Partially set. Mix in pineapple, cottage cheese, and horseradish. Fully set. Serve with dressing.

Combine mayonnaise and ketchup to taste.

A thought:

This reminds me of a “salad” (very loose interpretation, it’s much more like dessert) I made when my kids were growing up. It consisted of instant pistachio pudding (yes), drained crushed pineapple, cool whip, and fruit-flavored mini-marshmallows all smooshed up together to create “THE GREEN STUFF” which, believe it or not, was requested at family functions! The idea of it both repulses and intrigues me to this day, and if it were on the buffet table, I’m pretty sure I’d take a spoonful!

If you’re interested in the “history of the wiggle” as Kraft Foods describes it, check out this link:

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