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Share A Retro Dessert: All Things ‘Jello’

Yesterday, we looked back at the childhoods of really old Boomers like me and my contemporaries to teach kids today (under 50s people) what was standard dessert fare when we were young. We highlighted Fruit Cocktail, but we grazed some other ‘legacy’ foods. Today, the story of another…

Fruit Salad Mold Fancy - © kiwilimon.comFancy Jello Mold: Made in a Bundt Cake Pan. ‘Freehand Fruit Mix…

Yesterday, I waxed nostalgic and told a tale of my childhood, when even neighbourhood Mom had a can or two of Fruit Cocktail in the cupboard, and it found its way onto out tables at least twice a week in some form or other.

In doing so, I also touched on the companion classics Jello gelatine and instant pudding, and I promised to take an in-depth look at them, too. We’ll start today with Jello, and we’ll our look at Jello with an explanation why, for convenience, the vast majority of folks use that brand name to refer to any brand of the product.

Why ‘Jello’?

Yes, it appears that Sherriff’s and other manufacturers still make boxed instant gelly dessert powder. But we all generally refer to them collectively as ‘Jello’ – probably because that leading brand advertised enough for all of them put together in the beginning, and made an indelible impression.

It’s like Kleenex, which advertised hugely for its brand of disposable facial tissue so heavily that folks came to refer to all tissues as ‘Kleenexes’. And Chlorox became a household name among household cleaning products. So, no offense intended to the other gellied desserts. It’s just a matter of convenience.

‘Plain’ Jello

Way back when I was just a squirt, lots of Moms just boiled a kettle and made up a bowl of Jello as a dessert when they needed something fast, foolproof and moderately versatile to serve for a weeknight supper dessert. Often, my Mom topped ours with a drizzle of Table Cream or Whole Milk. Even better, she sometimes whizzed up a bowl of instant Whipped Cream ( with her twin-bladed hand mixer, from a powder, too) or splurged for a can of prepared Whipped Cream.

At that stage (after initial ‘dressing’), other great stuff like Chocolate Chips, fruit and nuts could be sprinkled on top. The ultimate was Mini Marshmallows! Which made it a ‘special’ weekend dessert.

Want to make it even more special? Chill and set your Jello in a square Pyrex (another household name!) dish, turn out the finished bock of Jello onto a board and slice or cube it, rather than just spooning it into serving dishes. Nice decorative touch.

The pinnacle of Jello ‘art’

Yet another decorative presentation involved setting the Jello in special theme-shaped metal molds. Animal, fruit and veggie shapes were favoured. Entire ‘collections’ of these molds evolved from one original application: setting Jello in Bundt Cake pans and special ridged- or swirl- decorated baking dishes. I rem,ember that Mom had one special Fruit serving bowl that has the outer design – a pile of fresh fruits – sculpted on the inside of the vessel so it would produce a beautiful (?) Jello Mold. It was reserved for one very high-level dessert only; the ultimate: Jello with Canned Fruit Cocktail suspended in it.

“Wow, Mom,” I recall saying once, when I discovered one of these being assembled in our kitchen just before the weekend. “Who’s getting married?” I didn’t bothering to as first, if that was the plan. Even little kids just knew a ‘Fruit Arrangement’ Jello Mold could only mean big doings were in the offing.

Folks widely took the appearance of one of these extra-special Fruit Cocktail Jello Molds as an early signal that wedding bells would soon be in the sir, as Mom was frequently called on to produce one as the crowing touch for a Wedding Shower brunch. Or a Wedding Reception (back then, when only really rich folks had weddings catered. Ditto Baby showers.)

The infamous Jello Salad

Another fave ‘special’ presentation was Jello with small pieces of Fruit, nuts and or other stuff suspended in it. The trick was to wait until the Jello was partially set before sprinkling in the additions, so they wouldn’t all sink to the bottom of the mold.

But the Jello Salad, which for a fleeting cultural moment in the late 50s and early 60s was de rigueur for special dinners and other ‘gala’ events. This was a Jello Mold with various par-cooked (softened) and raw veggie pieces suspended in it. They even made special veggie-essence Jello flavours just for this application. Of course, the colours of these special Jellos were almost always some shade of green or yellow. Better than blue, I guess, for savoury food…

Alas, the fad achieved popularity only at the conceptual level, where recipe developers congratulated themselves on inventing it in the first place). Yuk.

Times sure have changed

Now-a-days, we don’t rely on Jello like we used to. It’s still sold and used, but it’s not something every household stocks in its pantry anymore. Nevertheless, try it on your family, with well-drained Fruit Cocktail suspended in it (!) and see where that ‘tease’ leads…

~ Maggie J.

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