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.
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 .
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).
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.)