This week, in Recipes for the Post-Apocalypse….
Just kidding. Kind of. You may notice in the photo that the two boxes of cherry Jell-O look different. The one in the back was pulled from my stash, and the one in front was purchased yesterday. I had never thought about the shelf-life of Jell-O before, so out of curiosity, I examined the older box, and discovered a use-by date: October 29, 2011.
Would it really be dangerous to use a packet of Jell-O five years after its ostensible expiry? I turned to Mr. Google. I was not the first person to have this question, and among the answers the consensus seems to be that powdered Jell-O can last indefinitely when stored in a cool, dry place. It isn’t so much that the contents go bad, but if the packaging breaks down and moisture gets in, mold can grow and make the gelatin unsafe to eat.
I think I’ve mentioned that I’ve been playing some of the games in the Fallout franchise. The game world is an alternate-history United States, many decades after a nuclear war with China that occurs in 2077. One of the tasks the player-character performs is collecting food that can be used to restore health points, and along with the meat of various creatures that the player has to kill in the Wasteland, there are a lot of 21st-century leftovers lying around, somehow still safe to eat (if slightly radioactive). So now I’m wondering – where’s all the Jell-O? If Nuka Cola, Cram (tinned meat) and potato crisps are still edible 200 years on, there should be some Jell-O (or maybe “Gel-Oh!”) out there for the scavenging.
Well, I’m better at making Jell-O than I am at playing those games (I enjoy them, but I suck at them, and I cheat a bit because I don’t want to have to die a million times to see how the stories go), so – Cherry Chiffon.
Armed with my new knowledge of the shelf-life of Jell-O, I opened the old packet, and recognized some clumping as a sign that moisture had gotten in. (Freak Mountain is barely climate-controlled.) Into the bin it went. Luckily, I’d bought a few new packages of the cherry flavor, because the recipe calls for two, one for each layer.
The first layer is just cherry Jell-O with canned dark sweet cherries (one 8.75-oz. can) suspended in it. It turned out that my options at the supermarket for canned cherries were limited to the brand and size I bought; at 15 ounces, I have some leftovers. I’m not sure what to do with them, because I don’t really care for canned cherries, much as I’ve never liked maraschino cherries. One interesting thing about being a grownup is that you develop the ability to, well, be a grownup about eating things that you don’t care for, as long as they’re in small quantities, but six ounces of canned cherries are more of a challenge.
I may attempt this recipe for Oreo Soup from one of my absolute favorite books, a sort of anthology/art/coffee table book called Junk Food. Stay tuned….
The second layer is a simple bavarian of cherry Jell-O and 4.5 ounces of Cool Whip. Since the smallest available container of Cool Whip is eight ounces, I have some of that left over, which is handy, because if I make the Oreo Soup, I can use the leftover Oreo wafers and Cool Whip for Almond Joy Creme Pie, which appears a couple of pages after Oreo Soup in Junk Food. It just never ends, does it?
Something I was really iffy about when making Cherry Chiffon was the order of the layering. It seemed to me a bad idea have the gelatin layer on top. In my experience, the bavarians tend to be softer and less dense than the straight gelatin, so not exactly the best base for a Jell-O mold. Still, I went ahead with the recipe per the instructions, figuring that if the bavarian layer collapsed under the weight of the gelatin layer, I’d at least get to bitch about it on the internet.
I went about unmolding the Cherry Chiffon expecting the worst. What I ended up with was – a perfectly firm Jell-O mold. The bavarian layer turned out much firmer than I’d expected. The layers even seemed to be adhering to each other. I had thought that even if the bavarian layer held up, the gelatin layer might slide off, a distinct possibility given how slant-wise the layers came out. (We live in a crooked little house; nothing at Freak Mountain is level.)
Cherry Chiffon is far from the worst Jell-O I’ve made so far, but I don’t exactly love it. The Pepto-pink color of the bavarian layer is off-putting, as is the cough-drop cherry flavor. The canned cherries aren’t all that bad, but taste-wise they’re overwhelmed by the artificial cherry flavor of the Jell-O, and their texture is kind of icky.
I wish I could say I won’t be making this again, but there’s a Strawberry Chiffon variant coming up later on in the calendar. At least there’s no such thing as canned strawberries.