My Jiggly Valentine

by paige on February 10, 2010

THIS HAS BEEN the winter of flu-filled discontent in my house, and as a result, I’ve had innumerable requests for Jell–O. For a foodie like me, this presents quandaries. I don’t really think of Jell–O as food; it’s powder in a box. True, it was served every day in my college dining hall, but eaten by so few people that serving it daily always seemed suspicious. (The rumor was that a special endowment had been left to the college by a mysterious alum, with the specific purpose of keeping Jell–O constantly available to all. As my daughter the Rock likes to say, you never know.) Later, it morphed into a vehicle for alcohol–remember the Jell–O shot? But in my house, on the menu, Jell–O? Not so regular, much to my kids’ dismay. Sick or well, they love the jiggle.

They would, I suspect, have loved to have grown up in the 1970s, when Jell–O molds were so de rigeur that even my foodie mom served them on occasion. I have vivid memories of a lime-green cottage cheese and pineapple concoction served at my eighth birthday party. (No one would eat it, because I told all the children it contained…cottage cheese. Go figure. My mom is still a little bitter about that.)

These days, in my corner of the world, though, I don’t see Jell–O molds much, which got me searching, you guessed it, through the annals and archives of my Ladies’ Auxiliary treasure trove of cookbooks.

But the Jell–O molds were nowhere to be found. I was mystified.

And then, I realized. Jell–O is not dessert. No, ma’am. Jell–O is…salad.

Make that congealed salads. Yum?

Once I had my category corrected, I unleashed a veritable tsunami of gelatine. Some of the concoctions featured, well, unexpected ingredients. Take the Pretzel Salad, for example, from Connecticut Cooks II .

Or everybody’s Thanksgiving favorite, the Cranberry Tuna Mold. The name of the cookbook responsible for that gem? Seasonal Surprises. Say no more.

One creative malevolent? cook even suggests hiding the ingredients of her ‘tasty molded’ salad from guests. Read the recipe, and you may understand why.

But then, I finally found a Jell–O dessert that brought a flood of memories back. It seems college students didn’t invent the Jell–O shot after all. Nope. Leave it to the Ladies’ Auxiliary to figure out how to liven things up.

Are you molding up a Jell–O heart for your valentine? Or drowning your sorrows in rum salad? Tell your sisters…And if your children, like mine, insist on gelatine desserts, you can do what I did. Jettison the bright red powder, and make some jelled fruit juice (real juice!) instead. It’s so good, even I ate some (without any vodka at all).

Juicy (Not)Jell-O

2 cups fruit juice, divided (I have used a sugar-free cranberry/white grape blend, and blueberry juice, and both are delicious)
2 Tablespoons sugar (optional–my kids preferred it with the added sugar; I like it better without!)
1 packet Knox unflavored gelatine

Heat 1-1/2 cups of the juice to just below the boiling point. Meanwhile, pour the gelatine onto the remaining 1/2 cup of the cold juice. Add the sugar, if using, and then the hot juice, and stir until the gelatine (and sugar, if using) are thoroughly dissolved.

Pour into 1/2 cup ramekins and chill until set (about 3 hours.)

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Danielle February 10, 2010 at 5:25 pm

“Congealed salads” might be the most unappetizing phrase I’ve read all day. Which is actually kind of a feat, considering I’ve been reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Marina McIntire February 11, 2010 at 2:18 am

You would actually be surprised if you tried the raspberry jello-with-tomato. My mother always made that at Thanksgiving and so do I, quite often. No tabasco, but jello, one cup of boiling water and canned stewed tomatoes. I know, I know! Sounds terrible, but I put a sour cream dressing (with horseradish) on it — yummo!
And I will try the juicy (not) jello; promise.

Robin February 11, 2010 at 3:13 pm

These are astonishing recipes. About a decade ago my grandmother began serving a lime Jello salad full of olives, but tuna cranberry mold sounds even more horrifying. I love to jell unsweetened fruit juice, though!

Kathleen Kinney Mullin February 14, 2010 at 4:49 pm

One of my all-time favorite childhood foods was my maternal grandmother’s green Jello salad concoction. Much like white patent leather shoes, it was a seasonal item — first appearing at Easter Sunday lunch, always at the 4th of July barbecue, and taking a final bow around Labor Day. It had chopped walnuts, celery, cream or cottage cheese, crushed pineapple…maybe a wee bit of finely chopped cabbage lurked in there? No doubt Cool-Whip was folded into the mix before refrigeration. I know it sounds weird, but it was absolutely fantastic! I’ve tried Googling random combinations of the ingredients, but none of the resultant recipes sound right. Sisters, heed my warning — get the recipes for those crazy family delicacies down on paper before it’s too late!

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