This week it’s a desultory number four in the New Joy of Jell-O countdown – Ring Around the Fruit Mold. This one comes from the “Centerpiece Desserts” chapter, possibly because it involves a double-batch of Jell-O. Superficially, it appears similar to another Centerpiece Dessert, Banana Nut Ring with Ginger Topping, but unlike Banana Nut Ring, it matched my dark mood this weekend.
After another of those weeks (is there any other kind of week anymore?), I had an unusually social weekend (two parties and an intense bench-press session with my trainer), and coming at the Jell-O, I was exhausted both physically and mentally. Saturday night we went to a work function, which involved a walk about a mile and a half each way in a minor snowstorm because Bryan didn’t feel like driving, and that actually wasn’t too bad, since I got to meet some new people, and the food and wine were okay, but these work things are always stressful because you have to try to be on your best behavior (except the girlfriend of a new employee, who sat at a table and pouted over her phone almost the entire time). Sunday morning we went to a brunch with neighbors at the home of our friends F– and K– who live just a few blocks away, and I had to be careful not to eat to avoid lifting on a full stomach. The topic of “current events” was avoided for the most part, and, surprisingly, there are still lots of other things to talk about, but it always feels like an effort not to start fretting about what’s happening, and we finally caved in with F– shortly before leaving. It sort of helps to know other people are anxious, too, but not that much.
And then there was Ring Around the Fruit Mold, which didn’t help at all. It starts with a double batch of strawberry or raspberry Jell-O (I had a six-ounce package of raspberry, so I used that) and two 15-ounce cans of fruit cocktail (because they didn’t have 30-ounce cans at Target). I made the Jell-O using the juice from the cans for the cold liquid (with water to add up to 1 3/4 cup). The mold chilled overnight, and Sunday afternoon after my workout I made the filling – the drained fruit cocktail, a third of a cup of chopped pecans, a half cup of miniature marshmallows (good thing I had leftovers from last week’s Watergate Salad), and a cup of prepared Dream Whip.
(Speaking of the Watergate Salad, I did bring the leftovers to the lab. I put it in the fridge with a note on it, posted an announcement on Slack that it was there for the tasting – and I ended up being the only one who ate it. I’m starting to feel like I must be either unusually brave or unusually stupid.)
Anyway. If you were ever wondering if it’s really necessary to use a warm-water bath to loosen up the Jell-O before unmolding it, I now have an answer for you: YES. I set the Jell-O in my Tupperware ring mold, and, feeling lazy, decided to dispense with the warm-water bath. See, the cool thing about the Tupperware ring mold is that the center and the outside are two parts that are held together with the famous Tupperware seal, and when you loosen the center piece, the Jell-O falls easily out of the mold when it’s been warmed on the outside. I discovered that if you don’t warm the mold, even if it’s been lubed, some of the Jell-O can stick to the sides. It was the worst unmolding fail I’ve experienced in a long time. The ring came out in pieces, and I had to flip a couple of chunks over and sort of re-form it on the serving platter.
I piled up the filling in the center of the mold, and it immediately started trying to escape at the weakest point of the Jell-O ring. The washed-out colors of the canned fruit were not enhanced or helped in any way either by being mixed with Dream Whip and marshmallows or in contrast to the red Jell-O. The whole thing looked incredibly depressing.
Fittingly, we ended up tasting Ring Around the Fruit Mold after dinner while watching the second disk of the second season of Ash vs. the Evil Dead, the episodes where Ash is in the abandoned asylum having his head messed around by
Bill Baal. As I dished it out, it occurred to me that it was like something that might be served as a special holiday treat on a psychiatric ward. This recipe tasted at least as depressing as it looked. The Jell-O wasn’t so bad, but the filling was intensely disappointing. I expected it to be kind of like ambrosia salad, but it wasn’t. At all. The texture of the fruit cocktail was particularly creepy mixed with Dream Whip and in contrast with the marshmallows and nuts. Maybe more marshmallows would have helped. Probably not.
I may have to make a bonus contribution to Action Against Hunger this week, because I will be very surprised if we eat any more of this one.
So I sat down at my computer to write this up, did a quick email check, and found that there’s been another mass shooting, this one in a church, of all places, in Sutherland Springs, Texas. This is the sort of thing that makes it difficult to keep this blog light and hopeful – though I guess it does underscore the uncertainty of life, and the importance of eating dessert first. I don’t want to say “thoughts and prayers” because that’s really starting to ring hollow, but I feel like I should note that I am cognizant of this fresh tragedy, and trying not to get inured to it because this is not normal or okay.
In light of this, Fruit Delight is not as delightful as it probably needs to be. (I suppose vodka might have helped…) This recipe appears in the “Family Desserts” chapter, and it is not at all clear to me why, since this could easily fit in with the “Nice Easy Things” chapter, or even “Junior Cooks”. There are three ingredients: Jell-O (any flavor; I chose raspberry), canned fruit cocktail, and crushed ice.
The canned fruit cocktail was kind of an interesting point, because I hadn’t had it since I was a kid. Granted, this is a recipe reboot, but I see from my notes that when I made it originally, I used Island Pineapple flavored Jell-O and crushed pineapple instead of the fruit cocktail (which is offered as an option in the recipe). I had evidently decided that it was better not to try mixing flavors, but it’s unclear why. The pineapple version was “not scary or weird”, and this makes me kind of glad that I decided to brave the canned fruit cocktail this time. The thing is, I used to kind of like canned fruit cocktail when I was a kid, probably just because of the sheer weirdness of what happens to the fruit in the canning process. As an adult, though, I have avoided it, mainly because I’m not a fan of canned fruits and vegetables generally. Upon opening the can, I was surprised to see how little it’s changed over the years.
When I was a kid, my mother would actually make canned fruit cocktail in Jell-O once in a great while (or maybe it was just once), and that was kind of fun. A cursory glance at the recipe this time around put it in my mind that that was what this was going to be, but then I read through it and realized that the blender was involved. There have been a few blender Jell-O recipes (most memorably, Crème de Menthe Frappe) and those tend to result in a sort of layered gelatin with a bit of foam on top, a thick “custardy” layer, and a bit of clear jelly in the bottom. As a result, you can’t really see the fruit in the finished dish, which led me to think that maybe this should be called “Fruit Surprise” instead.
The process for making this was complicated a bit by the inclusion of crushed ice. Our refrigerator does have an ice maker, but the large metal coil that pushes the ice down the dispenser chute has been rusting and the ice maker has not produced food-safe ice in years. I forgot to buy a bag at the supermarket, so I found myself in the weird position of having to make a tray of ice the old-fashioned way for the first time in probably a decade. On the plus side, the tray turned out to make just about one and a half cups of ice as called for in the recipe, once I’d put the ice cubes in a zip-lock bag and bashed them up with a rolling pin. However, this felt like too much work somehow.
After I crushed the ice, I turned my attention to the Jell-O. Having drained my can of fruit, I added water to the reserved juice to make three-quarters cup of liquid. I boiled it, and combined it with the powdered raspberry Jell-O in the blender. I dumped in the crushed ice, blended it all together until the ice was melted, and poured the Jell-O into dessert glasses. I spooned in the fruit, which sank straight to the bottom (surprise!) and then popped the glasses in the fridge to cool. The directions say to chill this for ten minutes, but mine was in there until I’d finished washing the dishes and folding a load of clean dish towels. More than ten minutes, probably. Changing the clocks makes it hard to keep track of time.
I was hungry, though, so I didn’t wait longer than that. The Jell-O was decidedly soft-set at that point, but I decided I liked it that way. Raspberry Jell-O is much better without real raspberries in it. The fruit salad, though, turned out to be pretty much as creepy as I was expecting, especially the grapes, which put me in the mind of the old prank of having a blindfolded person stick their hand in a bowl of peeled grapes and telling them it’s eyeballs. Luckily, there wasn’t an awful lot of fruit in the 8.5 ounce can (according to the recipe, back in the day fruit cocktail came in 8.75 ounce cans), so this dish was mostly just blenderized Jell-O. Pretty inoffensive and easy to eat.
By the way, if I was doing a countdown (and I think I am), this would be number ten of the remaining recipes in the book. It feels like I’m really in the home stretch now, and I’m actually going to be able to finish this. Let’s just hope there are no more mass shootings before I get to the last recipe. Or after I finish, for that matter.