Originally posted December 14, 2009
How many different ways are there to do fruit and Jell-O? A lot, apparently.
Fruit Refresher is actually a refreshing change from Jell-O with Cool Whip and mayonnaise. (I guess it’s kind of like that old saw about how the best thing about beating your head against a wall is it feels so good when you stop.) The recipe calls for fresh berries or fruit, which is good since Jell-O is always better with fresh/real ingredients. Mid-December is not exactly the best time for fresh berries in New England, but I found some decent-looking blackberries at the supermarket. I macerated the berries in sugar, drained them, and used the resulting syrup as part of the cold liquid for the gelatin.
The Jell-O could be any flavor, and since I just needed to dissolve it in boiling water, I decided I’d better start using up my sugar-free Jell-O. I went for black cherry, which was not only sugar-free but also a flavor I hadn’t used before. The preparation was simple – dissolve gelatin in boiling water, add cold liquid, chill until thickened, add the fruit, and chill.
I’m very tired tonight for some reason, so it was nice to have a relatively stress-free Jell-O, no unmolding, it just got spooned into our funky MoMA ice cream bowls. The book suggests serving this with cream, and that would have been good, but it was fine served plain. It’s hard to go wrong with fresh fruit, though I’m not sure about the artificial cherry flavor of the Jell-O. It reminded me by turns of cough drops and of wearing Bonne Bell lip gloss when I was in my early teens. Either way, this made for a bunch of ambiguous Proustian moments.
Fresh Fruit Salad comes around in an interesting confluence of events. It happens to be an Orange Boycott recipe (I substituted lime Jell-O for orange) on a weekend when I wound up going to a counter-protest at the Boston Common to oppose a so-called “free speech rally” organized by some right-wingers who evidently felt that this was a good thing to do even so soon after Charlottesville. Planning for this rally had been underway since before violence erupted in Charlottesville, VA last weekend in the wake of a “Unite the Right” demonstration that included out-and-proud white supremacists and neo-Nazis. While smarter people might have at least postponed a rally that was planned to include many speakers who had appeared in Charlottesville, Boston Free Speech decided to go ahead with it.
The thing is, counter-protests mobilized pretty quickly, and the permit that was granted to Boston Free Speech mid-week required that they not carry weapons, or anything that could be used as a weapon (such as poles for flags). The organizers had to ask possible attendees not to bring neo-Nazi and Confederate paraphernalia (for appearances’ sake). Meanwhile, scheduled speakers were being uninvited (the most controversial ones) or dropping out. I guess not being allowed guns or swastikas made the whole thing not much fun for potential participants, and a few dozen rally-goers hung in there for less than an hour before being escorted away from the Common by police (for their own safety).
Bryan and I were running late, and ended up getting to the Common a short while after the rally-goers had left. The counter-protesters were carrying on with a sort of impromptu peace rally, which was upbeat and jubilant. There was a bunch of bicycle cops in the buffer zone looking bored, and beyond the buffer zone an empty space around the empty bandstand. We wandered around for a while, and the worst thing I witnessed personally was a guy letting his dog paddle around in the Frog Pond right in front of a sign saying that this was not allowed. I know there were some altercations that happened after we left, but no one was seriously hurt and the number of arrests was somewhere between “the Red Sox won a home game” and St. Patrick’s Day. I left the house expecting to fight Nazis and wound up just taking a long walk on a brilliant summer afternoon.
And then I returned home to another Jell-O recipe. Fresh Fruit Salad is, I would say, a variant on Waldorf salad. Chopped apples, halved grapes (dammit, fussing around with grapes again!) and chopped pecans get mixed into a bavarian made with lemon Jell-O, two-thirds cup sour cream, and one-third cup mayonnaise. (I know that one reader has a photo of someone vomiting copiously that he keeps for occasions like this.) This gets molded with plain gelatin (orange in the recipe, lime in my case) on the bottom and top, so that it looks more appetizing.
Preparing this was fairly routine, though I was annoyed by the timing of it. I had to leave the bavarian part in the fridge for a while, longer than it would take me to do the washing up and make the plain Jell-O, so I had to just wait around. It ended up thickening more quickly than I’d expected, so I ended up having to leave it out on the counter while I prepared the lime Jell-O. With the lime, I had to put some of it in the bottom of the mold and chill until thickened but not set (a half-hour, per the recipe), and then thicken the remaining Jell-O, spoon the bavarian into the mold, and put the rest of the Jell-O on top. I admit it, I got impatient with the first lime layer, as you can see in the photo. Time management has been a challenge for me lately, anyway, and this recipe made me feel especially inadequate.
I left the unmolding and tasting until after I’d gotten back from the gym today, so that I would be hungry and this recipe would stand the best possible chance to be appetizing. I have to say it didn’t look too bad once I’d unmolded it, and frankly, I think lime was a better choice than orange anyway.
Unfortunately, for eating it wasn’t so nice. I didn’t think it was all that bad, even though the mayonnaise flavor really predominated in the bavarian layer, but that may have been the post-gym hunger talking. I still think nuts don’t belong in Jell-O. Bryan, on the other hand, described it as “really unpleasant”, and actually picked all of the bits of fruit out of the bavarian layer and ate what he could of the lime Jell-O, leaving a nasty heap of bavarian-style jelly in his bowl.
Fresh Fruit Salad appears in a photo in the book – on a wedding buffet table where all the dishes are made with Jell-O, also featuring Salmon Dill Mousse and Creamy Bleu Cheese Salad. I feel bad for the happy couple. If it was the mother of the bride who planned this wedding, that groom is in for a bad time with his mother-in-law.
Today we’re looking at another “Especially for Junior Cooks” recipe.
However, this post isn’t going to be as carefree as it ought to be. I took a “staycation” last week, with the ambition of doing some serious house cleaning, but got brought up short on that by a couple of things. One was that what I really needed was a bit of a rest, and after a couple of rooms I realized I wasn’t going to get it if I kept on doing all that work by myself. Another was that last week the news was pretty much one gut punch after another, which made the need for some self-care even more pressing.
Early in the week, unexpected caffeine withdrawal headaches (it’s sad, it turns out I’m more of an addict than I realized) were compounded by the president’s belligerent rhetoric directed at North Korea, which gave us Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers bad Cold War flashbacks. I started thinking along the lines of “who cares if the bathroom is perfectly clean if we’re all going to die in a nuclear apocalypse anyway?” So I shifted my focus to playing Fallout New Vegas (for practice), working with my trainer at the gym to test my one-rep maxes on the major lifts (to keep my Strength stat up), and practicing guitar (to get my Charisma stat a bit higher). All of those activities had the added bonus of taking my mind off of the news and me physically away from social media.
On Saturday we went to a party down the shore at the home of the founder of my lab at MIT. I left my phone stowed in a duffle bag all day while I drank wine, watched egrets doing their thing in the marsh, and chatted with the good folks from the lab. It was very nice while it lasted – and then late in the evening I pulled out my phone to show someone pictures of my past Halloween costumes, and after that made the mistake of looking at Twitter, where I read about the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA and the incident where one of their number drove his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing one person and injuring nineteen more.
This makes it a little difficult to feel light-hearted about a Jell-O project when Jell-O is, arguably, part of the so-called “white culture” being championed by the so-called “alt right” (Bill Cosby notwithstanding, and he’s certainly not someone I would choose as a shining example of African American culture, either). It’s difficult to feel light-hearted in general right now. I’ve been wanting to make a statement about how the white guys with the tiki torches don’t represent me, but I’m not sure how to do it without sounding self-righteous. They really don’t, though. As a melanin-challenged person, I don’t feel as though “my culture” is under threat, and I recognize what a privilege that is. Anyway, my view of U.S. culture is rather different from theirs, incorporating as it does the essential influences of all those groups the neo-Nazis believe to be inferior. The U.S. has never been a homogeneous culture. Thank goodness.
But I did make some Jell-O on Sunday, so let’s get back to the fittingly named Rainbow Parfait. This recipe is deceptively simple-sounding, consisting of two flavors of Jell-O (lemon and raspberry) that are layered in tall glasses for maximum visual impact. I’m out of raspberry (all red flavors, actually), and since we were time-constrained by that party I decided to skip the usual Saturday visit to Stop’n’Shop and use another flavor that I already had on hand. This time, it was grape, because purple is yellow’s complementary color, and I figured the contrast would be reasonably, erm, psychedelic and in the spirit of the original recipe. (The book was, after all, published in the early 1970s when the counterculture had pretty much gone mainstream.)
The problem with this recipe is that the timing is all wonky. You’re supposed to make two separate batches of Jell-O at the same time (okay so far), and then you thicken them a bit. Fine. But then you’re suppose to add a layer of one flavor of thickened Jell-O to the glasses, chill that layer until it’s fairly firm, then add the next layer, chill, and so forth. The problem with this is, as I’ve found, that once the Jell-O starts setting up, it’s just going to keep getting thicker, and these directions just sound kind of silly. Instead, I chilled the lemon and grape Jell-O until they were pretty thick but not set, quickly layered them in the glasses, and then put them in the fridge to chill until firm.
I think the original idea in the recipe was that you’d end up with quite flat and distinct layers of color. Doing it my way, with the Jell-O soft and sort of mounding, the layers blend a little where the two flavors of Jell-O meet and they’re not perfectly level. This gives the dish a sort of tie-dye effect that I quite like.
For eating, this was probably one of the least weird recipes I’ve done. Of course, it’s really just two-flavor Jell-O, and if you’re okay with Jell-O, it’s fine (though I would have liked a squirt of Redi-Whip on top). The best part was the visual appeal, which definitely added to the pleasure of eating it.
It looked especially nice once I’d spooned some of it out of the glass. The flavor specificity of the recipe is unnecessary – this would work well with any combination of light-colored and dark-colored Jell-O flavors. In fact, I think the purple of the grape flavor was a little too dark, and I kind of wish I’d gotten a little more adventurous with the flavors, for example using peach and Berry Blue. It could be fun to use this layering technique to make Cubed Gelatin for a kind of hippie-dippie effect. If the opportunity presents itself I’ll have to try it.
And you know what, finishing this up is actually making me feel a little better. Ah, the magic of Jell-O…
Today we make out first venture into the chapter titled “Especially for Junior Cooks”.
Jell-O gelatin is a young dessert. Cool and sparkling. Fresh and fruity. And the colors are pure pop art. (Next time you pour boiling water on the powdered gelatin, just watch those colors come alive.)
Jell-O Gelatin desserts are easy and quick to prepare, too. Another reason for starting your cooking career with these ideas. A few minutes of mixing and pouring and you have a beautiful dessert to chill and carry to the table.
Let it be fun – something to share with people you love. Invite a special friend, or your younger sister, to help you make Supersodas. Share your Snack Cups with a hungry Dad.
Begin in a big way. Start with Jell-O Gelatin.
It would have made sense to explore this chapter with some children, but I don’t have any of my own, and I don’t think the people I know who have young children would let me borrow them for this purpose. And my youngest sister is in her early forties.
So I made Supersodas just for Bryan and me, and I’m feeling a bit silly that I didn’t invite somebody over to share this with us, because this isn’t exactly a make-ahead recipe with leftovers that can be kept in the refrigerator until the next day. This is a dessert that’s meant to resemble ice cream sodas from an old-fashioned soda fountain of the sort that’s becoming vanishingly rare, giving way to ice cream shops that serve sundaes in paper cups. It has ice cream in it, and not as the creamy component of a bavarian.
It starts, as so many things do, with Jell-O. The book recommends Concord grape, cherry, strawberry, or raspberry flavor. I chose raspberry because it was the only one of those I had on hand. (Also, Concord grape flavor no longer exists.) The Jell-O is prepared with a bit more cold liquid than usual, a cup of club soda and a quarter-cup of cold water. The club soda must be there to psych the kids into thinking these really are sodas, because of course once you add the soda to the hot gelatin the carbon dioxide bubbles escape quickly, leaving behind the usual flat lukewarm liquid gelatin.
The Jell-O gets chilled until slightly thickened. Meanwhile, the cook adds scoops of vanilla ice cream to tall soda or iced tea glasses. (While this recipe purports to make three servings, I only have two such glasses, and I ended up making two small “sodas” as well.) Once the Jell-O is slightly thickened, a cup of it gets set aside and the rest is added to the glasses, and then the set-aside cup gets whipped to a froth and placed in the glasses on top of the flat Jell-O, and all of that goes into the refrigerator for at least two hours. Before serving, the glasses are garnished with Dream Whip.
Let me remind the reader that there is ice cream in the bottom of those glasses that ends up sitting in the fridge at an above-freezing temperature for at least two hours. What do you suppose happens to it?
Yep, it was melted. Completely liquid. The flat and whipped gelatin layers had firmed up and were clinging to the sides of the glasses, so eating this meant making one’s way through the Jell-O layers to get to the melted ice cream. Meanwhile, since it wasn’t all that firm, the Jell-O sort of crumbled into the melted ice cream, making a sort of jelly ice cream soup. It didn’t taste bad, but Bryan remarked that if he were a kid and he was eating this dessert only to find that the ice cream had all melted, he’d be pretty unhappy. As it was, since he ended up drinking it like a beverage out of the glass, a fair amount of it ended up in his mustache, which wasn’t so pleasant for me.
I have a couple of regrets about this. For one, I used Dream Whip because the recipe specified it, but I think this would have been better with Redi-Whip, which would look better and is real whipped cream. (Also, I’d get the nitrous prize in the bottom of the can.) For another, I really do wish we’d gotten someone to come over and eat some of this. As I write this post, it’s over an hour since we ate our Supersodas, and I’ve been burping and typing and not getting hungry for real food, i.e., dinner. Woman cannot live on Jell-O alone, and she’d really rather not try.
The “Junior Cooks” chapter certainly has it’s share of what-the-fuckery, but at least it’s all desserts. And there’s no mayonnaise.