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.
A few days ago I heard on the news that the second-to-last Howard Johnson’s restaurant was about to close. My first reaction was – there are still Howard Johnson’s restaurants out there?
Howard Johnson’s got its start as a soda fountain in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1925, somewhat improbably expanded into a chain of restaurants during the Great Depression, and became a pioneer in American road food as the automobile became King of the 20th Century. For decades, families on road trips would see an iconic orange tiled roof and know that they could get a good sit-down meal with 28 flavors of ice cream to choose from for dessert. During the 1980s, the Howard Johnson’s brand was sold and passed from conglomerate to conglomerate, while interstate highway rest stops were taken over by fast food chains, and HoJo’s restaurants went on a steady decline. On September 6, 2016, the Howard Johnson’s restaurant in Bangor, ME will close, leaving only one restaurant in Lake George, NY to carry on the legacy.
My family seldom traveled, and most of the few trips we took were within Massachusetts (except for one summer week when the seven of us crammed ourselves into a neighbor’s tiny vacation cottage in New Hampshire) so I don’t really have any childhood memories of “road food”. My HoJo’s memories involve the Howard Johnson’s restaurant in Times Square in New York City. I went there twice.
The first time was in the summer of 1977. Fellow older people and/or history buffs will recognize that as the summer when the New York City police were hunting down the serial killer known as Son of Sam. It was also a low point for NYC generally, but for some reason, my grandmother decided it would be neat for her and me to spend a couple of days there with a friend of hers and her friend’s granddaughter.
Actually, I enjoyed spending time with my grandmother, and it was a fun trip. I remember that we stayed at the Taft Hotel, which must have been this one in Times Square. The centerpiece of the trip was seeing the original Broadway production of Annie (with Andrea McArdle in the title role), and we also did a bit of sight-seeing, going up to the observatory in the Empire State Building and visiting the Statue of Liberty (although we didn’t go up to the crown, presumably due to the lack of elevators). I remember that I had never been on a train before so I really wanted to ride the subway, but my grandmother refused, insisting that it was too dangerous.
Since it was almost 40 years ago, my memories of the trip are hazy, but one of the few clear memories I have is of having supper at the Howard Johnson’s. In particular, I remember the part where I ordered dessert. I wanted ice cream, and growing up in the Friendly’s company town, I naturally assumed that all other restaurants only had a few flavors of ice cream – chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and maybe one or two others. Unaware that HoJo’s were famous for their 28 flavors, I asked the waitress what they had, and she patiently starting going down the list, from memory. (Belately, I am impressed.) Luckily, peppermint stick was near the top, and since that was my favorite, I stopped her there.
Another thing I remember is almost getting hit by a cab. It was the first time, but not the last.
The second time I went to the Howard Johnson’s in Times Square was while Bryan and I were living in Brooklyn. We were living in a tiny, noisy, leaky, roach-infested shithole of an apartment in a still-gentrifying part of Park Slope, saving up to get out, and trying to make the best of our New York experience in whatever ways we could. It was probably late 2004 or early 2005 when we heard that the restaurant, one of the last old-school holdouts in the shiny new post-Guiliani Times Square, would be closing, and we decided that we had to go.
It looked as though it hadn’t changed since it opened in 1959, and it probably hadn’t, all dark wood paneling and burnt-orange vinyl. Almost certainly it was just the same as when I went there with my grandmother in 1977. We had the signature clam strips, and ice cream for dessert. Mine was peppermint stick.
In late April 2005, the Times Square Howard Johnson’s closed.
It’s not that I want them back so much, but it’s important to know that these things existed. When we forget history we’re doomed to repeat it, yes, but it’s useful to remember where we’ve been as we move on to where we’re going. Also, it’s good to be aware of our place in history. Each of us is part of a bigger picture, a picture that includes David Berkowitz and clam strips…
It’s kind of ironic that I’ve named this category of recipes “Memory Lane”, because often I have no memory of them at all. Scanning through my editorial calendar, it looks like I’ve front-loaded the blog with the more memorable items (whether this was intentional or not, I’ll leave the reader to guess), so from here on in you can count on Memory Lane to be cracked and increasingly overgrown by weeds.
It’s clear from the photo why I have no memory of Layered Parfait Mold. I’m pretty sure I’ve made a number of them like this, a jelly layer atop a bavarian layer. Back when I was rating the recipes, I gave this one two “nasties”, because it wasn’t as nice as I expected, and because I was dissatisfied with the Trader Joe’s frozen fruit medley that I used for the jelly layer. Frozen fruit is great in a gelatin dish insofar as it helps to cool the gelatin so that it thickens faster, but it’s difficult to find frozen fruit that has both flavor and a non-weird texture.
Reviewing the recipe, I see that I could have made this more interesting. Apparently I just went with strawberry for both layers, but the recipe calls for “any flavor” Jell-O. I can see now I should have mixed it up a bit. At least then the photo would have been more interesting, and I could have had a bavarian layer than wasn’t creepy pink. Naturally, that was the tastier layer. That was the part Bryan liked, probably because it had ice cream in it, and ice cream makes everything better.
In the last unmemorable Memory Lane piece, Quick Creme de Menthe Frappé, I announced that I would try to have all of the recipes completed and posted by my fiftieth birthday in January 2017. I don’t see that happening at this point. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the course of this Project, it’s the need to pace myself, and the main thing is to actually finish. As far as I’ve been able to discover, nobody else has been able to cook their way through this book, so that, when it happens, will be an accomplishment.
I’ll be honest with you – a major ongoing challenge has been maintaining enthusiasm for Jell-O. Other people who’ve done Jell-O blogs have claimed to love (or be obsessed with) Jell-O. They also tend to be housewives and/or Mormons. I’m way outside of both of those demographics, and while I clearly have Jell-O memories going way back, it’s not like it’s ever been my favorite thing.
It turns out that the key is having enthusiasm for the Project itself. It hit me a few weeks ago when Bryan and I were making one of our semi-regular visits to the Cambridge Antique Market, where we find a lot of our vintage cookbooks, jelly molds, and kitchenware. We ran across a shoebox full of old recipe booklets, many of them church- or school-produced things outside my area of interest, but one of them happened to be an early 1960s vintage copy of Joys of Jell-O, with just the sort of weird color food photography I adore. There was no price tag on it, so I checked with the woman who was overseeing the booths on the floor, and she told me that the shoebox was for sale as a lot, $25 for all of them. In that case, I told her, I would have to mull it over. I explained a little about the Project and why I was particularly keen to have the Jell-O book. I thanked her, and wandered off to look at other booths.
A few minutes later, I heard her call out, “Is the Jell-O Lady still here?” She had phoned the vendor and gotten him to agree to sell me the Jell-O book separately. I was touched by her thoughtfulness, and weirdly thrilled to be publicly called out as “the Jell-O Lady”.
Can I be “the Jell-O Lady” for another couple of years? Yeah. I think I can.
Originally posted November 22, 2009
One of the things I’m trying to do to make this Project as un-arduous as possible is to make recipes when fresh ingredients are in season. Since this is the beginning of the holiday season, readers should prepare themselves for the onslaught of apples, cranberries, and (ugh) dried fruit.
Contrary to the name of the recipe, this is more like poached apples. The basic idea is to make Jell-O (strawberry in this case), season it with lemon slices and a cinnamon stick, and simmer the apples in it. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Again, I have only myself to blame for any wrong turnings in this endeavor. The main problem stemmed from the kind of apple I used, namely, the ones that happened to be in the refrigerator. The recipe called for six baking apples, and there were six apples in the fridge. Bryan bought them, so I wasn’t sure what kind they were, and I really should have been more careful. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
As I peeled and cored the apples the slow, laborious way, with a paring knife, I felt myself getting in tune with the mindset of housewives who typically resort to cookbooks like The New Joys of Jell-O. I quickly lost patience with the chore and wished there was an easier way to achieve the same result. Also, coring apples with a paring knife is a pain in the ass. I had set up the rest of the mise en place and left the apples for last. Since I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to prepare them, I didn’t start the Jell-O poaching liquid until I was well into it, but it turned out that I was over-cautious in that regard, and the apples were already starting to turn a little brown by the time I set them into the saucepan with the liquid, where they were to simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, being basted and turned occasionally. The aroma from the apples cooking in the Jell-O was not at all unpleasant, but at the same time it reminded me overwhelmingly of the gift shop section of Cracker Barrel, which was confusing. I have mixed feelings about Cracker Barrel.
Suddenly, sugary bubbles were starting to fizz up from under the saucepan lid – the apples had gotten past the simmer zone, and when I lifted the lid to check them, four of the six apples had cooked down to shapeless mush. I had used the wrong kind of apples. It was pure, undeserved luck that when the simmering was done there were two apples that had retained enough structure to be used in the photograph.
The recipe called for the apples to be chilled until set, about an hour, before serving. They were in the fridge for longer than that, but they hadn’t set, and that was okay. I garnished the two “good” dishes with scoops of Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream, and it was actually a toothsome little number. My only real complaint was that the cinnamon flavor wasn’t strong enough. (I think the GF R&D drones must have been pretty timid about seasonings as a rule.) Bryan thought it would have been better with some sort of crumble topping, but allowed that this was one of the more palatable entries so far. It almost didn’t taste like a Jell-O dessert, except for the funky aftertaste. The bright red color was vintage 1970s.
I ran out of breakfast cereal and ended up eating the remaining two dishes of what turned out to be strawberry Jell-O applesauce for breakfast for the next couple of days. Nummy nummy num!
A Fun Link
Online acquaintance M– pointed me in the direction of a blog entry giving directions for making a gruesome meat hand using the hand-shaped mold. It’s so awesomely creepy it almost makes me wish I wasn’t “mostly vegetarian.” Check it out!