I was a bad girl this week. I deviated significantly from the original recipe for Peach Gem Pie, which is, as you can probably tell from the old photo, just orange Jell-O with peach slices in it, in a pie crust. Oh, yes, and there’s a little almond extract in the Jell-O. Because of my Orange Boycott, I was planning on substituting peach Jell-O for orange anyway, but then after the week we’ve had here in the U.S. and abroad, I just couldn’t face Jell-O in a pie shell. I just couldn’t.
So it occurred to me that I could do what the U.S. Congress failed to do this week – I could take a not-so-good thing and make it better. Following on the success of Easy Fruit Tarts, I decided to turn Peach Gem Pie into a Peach Gem Tart.
I started with Julia Child’s sweet short crust recipe and made a nine-inch tart shell. I spread a layer of French vanilla Jell-O instant pudding in the bottom of the tart shell, arranged Del Monte canned peach slices (so sue me, peaches are well out of season right now) in a pretty pattern on the pudding, and spooned thickened peach Jell-O over the peaches to form a glaze. I forgot to add the almond extract to the Jell-O (rather than listening to music while I worked, I was listening to NPR programming and got distracted) but remedied that somewhat by serving the tart with almond-flavored whipped cream.
The end result was not bad at all. It certainly looks prettier than the pie shown in the book. Orange Jell-O has a garish hue, but peach Jell-O is actually a rather pretty color. The flavor is subtler, too, and I wonder whether it would have made a difference if I’d remembered to add the almond extract. Probably not. These Jell-O recipes tend to be pretty timid about the added flavors. I was a little dubious about whether the almond flavor would go with the peaches, but in the whipped cream it worked much better than I expected.
I did make a few mistakes. The main one is that the crust turned out tough; most likely I overworked it, got a little cocky after it turned out so well last time. Another is that I added too much almond extract to the whipped cream. A teaspoon of vanilla extract to a half-pint of whipping cream works well; a teaspoon of almond extract is, I’m thinking, about twice as much as you want. (The aftertaste, it burns…) Finally, one three-ounce package each of pudding and Jell-O is way too much for a single nine-inch tart. It was fine because I ate the leftovers, but if anyone wants to try to recreate this, I recommend planning on making two tarts. Seriously, this turned out to be a decent dessert. Bring them to Easter dinner. The colors are seasonal, and I could see this working well after a main course of ham. Ham from a can. Oh, the memories… Did I mention it was a rough week?
Okay, let me just start by saying that I’m feeling a little annoyed about this one. Not because it was so difficult – quite the opposite, in fact. After the last couple of weeks, it would have been kind of therapeutic to work on a recipe that’s a little more involved than this, something requiring a little more focus, to take me to my Zen happy place.
I paid more than usual attention to the Republican and Democratic conventions, and came out of it feeling as though I’d been worked over with a bad-cop-good-cop routine. In Jell-O terms, the Republican convention was Molded Ham and Egg Salad, and the Democratic convention was a rainbow Jell-O mold. The Republican convention was so dismal in tone and so badly run that it made the Democratic convention look almost too good by comparison. Tim Kaine’s goofy sweetness was a welcome change from, say, Chris Christie’s kangaroo court routine, or Ben Carson’s loopy speech in which he obliquely accused Hillary Clinton of Satan worship. I found Bill Clinton’s affectionate account of his life with Hillary touching even though it was hard to square with my memory of the Monica Lewinsky thing. I’m not usually susceptible to American patriotic optimism, but after four days of the Republicans shouting at us that we’re all doomed and Donald Trump alone can save us, it was a relief. I felt like Winston Smith having finally surrendered to Big Brother. And, to be clear, I don’t mean that in a good way.
I wish I could feel more excited about the fact that a woman has been nominated as a candidate for president of the United States. It’s historic, for us, but in this we’re behind a lot of other countries, from Great Britain to Pakistan. Also, Clinton hasn’t won yet. I’m afraid that if she does, she (and we) will have to endure sexism on a similar level to the racism we’ve seen aimed at President Obama for the last seven and a half years. On the other hand, the prospect of a Trump presidency is terrifying. Either way, the next four and a half years are going to be rough.
And then there’s Peach-Banana Dessert, damn it – just another fruit-suspended-in-Jell-O. The ingredients are: one 3-ounce package strawberry Jell-O, one sliced banana, and one 1-pound can sliced peaches. As usual, the peaches presented a problem. One-pound cans now weigh 15.25 ounces. Sigh.
The preparation, quite typically, involves dissolving the powdered gelatin in a cup of boiling water and adding the syrup from the peaches plus water to equal a cup of cold liquid. The resulting liquid gelatin was still quite hot, but the directions say to pour it into dessert dishes and then add the fruit. I read this, and looked at my glass dessert dishes, and wondered if thermal shock was not a thing in 1974. Exploding glasses would not have made this more fun, so I thickened the gelatin over an ice water bath (also nice because the weather was hot and humid when I did this), stirred in the banana slices, put the gelatin into my kittykat wine glasses (a gift from my friend K–), and added the peaches. Voila!
This was definitely improved by the addition of whipped cream, but it was fine as is. The canned peaches turned out to be surprisingly decent (Del Monte brand, in case you’re curious), especially compared to the frozen peaches I used in Jellied Peach Melba. Peaches are difficult because it seems like the only way they’re really any good is if they’re fresh in season. To hear some people tell it, the only places you can get good peaches are Georgia and South Carolina. (Which state has the better peaches in the subject of religious debate.) The town where I grew up in western Massachusetts is home to a peach orchard or two, and I remember having good fresh peaches as a kid, so I know what I’m missing now.
The thing with fruit-in-Jell-O is that it always seems like a dessert for sick, elderly, or mentally ill people. It’s kind of funny that I think that now, because I remember as a kid liking Jell-O with canned fruit cocktail in it. There was something fascinating about canned fruit cocktail, that weird thing that happened to the grapes in the canning process, and the cherries actually seemed edible. Yet another reason to feel good about getting older…
Gelatin and Fruit is barely a recipe. I wonder if I was setting myself up for a bit of unnecessary angst by treating it as a separate thing. It’s perhaps the second simplest recipe in the book, with Cubed Gelatin in first place, and yet it’s the sixth item to appear. I ask you.
Still, this is helpful in the effort to pace myself, especially since there’s another nasty one coming up. For the Jell-O, I chose peach because I have a lot of it for some reason, and because I like the color. For fruit, I chose blueberries and banana, mainly on impulse. Going to the supermarket at this time of year is a little frustrating, because things are starting to come into season locally, and yet supermarkets are still selling produce from California and Florida. Bananas, I reasoned, are never in season in New England, so I couldn’t feel too bad about buying them. The blueberries were from Washington state, and, I don’t know, that seemed legit enough. Also, I thought Jell-O and banana alone would seem bland.
I’m pretty pleased with the result, appearance-wise. It turned out to be a sort of retro color scheme, a bit reminiscent of a 1960s dream kitchen. It was easy enough to eat, though Bryan grumbled about it being served in a tall glass. He’s peeved because he made a batch of chocolate-mint-chip ice cream, and thanks to the Project that’s been relegated to Second Dessert tonight.
To be honest, a low-stress Jell-O was just the thing this weekend (so props to me for planning so well!) I spent an inordinate amount of time working on the Juggling for Office Drones video, by turns moderately pleased and dismally disappointed with it. I know that my videos are like the macaroni-art-on-the-refrigerator of YouTube, and I accept that I would have to spend a lot more time and money on them (time and money that I don’t really have) to make them a lot better, but I feel like they should be a bit better for the effort I’m putting in.
Of course, the work is interesting, and it keeps me busy and thinking about things other than current events. This week has been particularly heavy, what with the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, the assassination of British MP Jo Cox, and the never-ending U.S. presidential campaign, on top of the usual lower-level stresses.
So, I’m finding myself having to make a more conscious effort to keep my head above water. Along with looking at vintage recipes on social media, I’m spending more time listening to my “Galaxy News Radio” station on Pandora, which (when it’s not taking weird detours into Wendy Carlos territory) plays big bands and singing groups from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. I’ve liked jazz for a long time, but I’m finding this music particularly soothing these days. Some might say that this is because the early-mid twentieth century was “a simpler time”. Sure it was. It was a time when men were men (who only liked women), women were women (who only liked men), and minorities had their own drinking fountains and lunch counters. It was a time when the world was at war, or between wars. That’s probably why the music from that era is so soothing.
Contrary to my rather snarky remark at the end of Orange Parfait, the 1970s weren’t a simpler time either. There was Watergate, the aftermath of the Viet Nam war (which I got to experience fairly closely because most of my uncles were in the service, and some went to Viet Nam), and the movement of “drug culture” toward the mainstream. The Cold War was still going on; duck-and-cover had gone out of civil defense style, but our town still tested the air raid sirens every Friday at noon. There were the gas crises, the post-Nixon political mess, and, at the end of the decade, the Iranian hostage crisis.
Well, the people of mid-century America had their comforts, and we had things (music, comedy, junk food) to mitigate the stresses of the 1970s, and I’m finding things in the here-and-now to enjoy. In particular, I’ve been hooked on a new album, Monolith of Phobos by the Claypool Lennon Delerium. I have a mad musical crush on Les Claypool’s bass, which he’s taken out of the rhythm section and placed squarely front and center. It’s so exhilarating to find a great new album; it feels like being a kid and having a long, hot summer of freedom ahead of you….
Yay, me! I got another virgin recipe out of the way!
First, this begs the question: What the hell is a real peach Melba, anyway? I confess I had to look it up, and it’s as old-fashioned as it sounds. It was invented in the late 19th century by chef Escoffier to honor an Australian opera singer, and consists of peaches, raspberries, raspberry sauce, and vanilla ice cream. It turns out that the Jell-O version is true to the original, which is traditionally open to variation anyway.
I had a few tiny issues, but overall Jellied Peach Melba is easy-peasy to make. The main problem, if you want to call it that, is that there’s no longer a Bird’s Eye Quick Thaw line of frozen fruits, so I wound up getting the store brand frozen peaches (the only option), and some crunchy-granola-sounding brand of frozen raspberries. The bag of peaches was larger than what was called for in the recipe, but that turned out to be a good thing, because the recipe calls for a five-cup ring mold, and my ring mold is six cups. The extra peaches filled out the mold nicely.
Putting it together involved making a double batch of raspberry Jell-O, adding the frozen peaches and raspberries, and putting it in the ring mold to chill and set up overnight. The fabulous presentation includes scoops of vanilla ice cream (Ben & Jerry’s, natch) piled up in the middle of the Jell-O ring.
As it happens, I finished and tasted this after doing our income tax returns, an activity that’s guaranteed to tank my mood. In fact, TurboTax started me off by asking me how I felt about doing my taxes. I was feeling pretty good at the outset after having a productive morning. Two and a half hours and a good deal of shouting and swearing later, I was decidedly cranky. Bad news for the Jell-O result?
Full credit to Kraft Foods and Jell-O, preparing and eating Jellied Peach Melba actually cheered me up quite a bit. The mold turned out without a hitch, and scooping out balls of ice cream is almost always a delight. For eating, this one isn’t bad at all. Cream almost always improves Jell-O, and the mold had enough fruit in it that it wasn’t like eating a dish full of jelly (for which one really needs to be in the right mood, or sick, or recovering from dental surgery).
I wish the fruit had been better. The peaches had a peach-like texture and weren’t mushy or slimy, but they had very little flavor. The raspberries just tasted wrong, but maybe that was because of the contrast with the artificial flavor of the Jell-O. I rarely find frozen fruit that’s satisfactory – most are good enough for protein smoothies, maybe, but few can stand on their own in a dessert.
Still, all things considered, not a bad one at all. I may even eat some of the leftovers before the Jell-O starts shrinking in the fridge.
And yes, we ate the whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s during the “tasting”. You pretty much have to polish off all the ice cream after this dessert is served – another point in its favor.
I’m enjoying this while I can, because the next one up is one of the scary savory ones, involving a video and a donation to Action Against Hunger. I have some new ideas for the videos, so I’m actually looking forward to tackling it. Look for that in a couple of weeks…
Originally posted October 29, 2009
Ginger Peach Dessert sounds a little fancy, but it’s really just your basic fruited Jell-O. The base is orange, and the cold liquid is ginger ale. At least, that’s what the recipe calls for, but after my disappointment with the Jellied Ginger Upper, I wanted to go for a stronger ginger flavor, so I used Reed’s Jamaican ginger beer instead. The fruit is, alas, canned peaches.
This sounded like a recipe that would lend itself to being molded, so I decided to use it as a practice run with the hand-shaped mold that was loaned to me for my Halloween party commission work. It struck me that this might be a tricky mold to use, for a number of reasons, the primary one being the extremely irregular shape of the mold. I knew there was no way I could fumble my way out of this one with a knife. Also, the mold is made of plastic, and I hadn’t worked with plastic molds yet, so I didn’t have a feel for how this would work.
The recipe didn’t make quite enough to fill the mold, but it was full enough. The way this mold is formed, the hand sits atop a mitten-shaped platform of Jell-O, and luckily there was at least enough to fill the mold above the outline of the hand where the platform started. I’ve been told that it’s extremely difficult to unmold from this if all you do is fill the hand, and I believe it.
As it turned out, it was difficult to unmold anyway. I blame myself. I forgot to coat the mold with nonstick cooking spray. I filled a baking pan as full as I dared with hot water from the tap, but it wasn’t deep enough to immerse the underside of the mold, and this problem was exacerbated by the irregular shape of the thing. The wrist section is much deeper than the fingers. After what seemed like far too long in the water, I tried turning it out onto the platter. Nothing. So I got out the hairdryer and felt silly blow-drying my mold for a few minutes, with no visible effects. I went back to immersing, then back to the hair dryer, then immersing again, until finally the thing plopped out onto the platter. As you can see in the photo, the unmolding required far too much melting of the Jell-O, so what I ended up with was a diseased looking hand sitting in a pool of orange spooge.
This was not a big hit with the Peanut Gallery. I’m now thinking that this may not have been a good recipe to mold after all, because the Jell-o was closer to “soft set” than it was to “nice and firm.” Bryan didn’t like the texture, and he had to ask me what flavor the Jell-O was. The latter complaint may have had to do with the ginger beer. Reed’s is one of the better ones around, but it’s very sweet and the ginger flavor lacks sharpness. (We used to love another ginger beer, Old Tyme, which was so spicy it made me sneeze, but that appears to have vanished from the marketplace.) I don’t think it worked so well in this recipe because, as is often the case, it just didn’t blend well with the flavor of the Jell-O. I’m not fond of artificial orange flavor, so I didn’t mind it so much, though. The canned peaches were, as usual, a disappointment.
The real bummer here, of course, is that I have not allayed my fear of disappointing our hosts at the Halloween party…
Originally posted August 26, 2009
Ah, well, as you can see, the unmolding was a success. I still wish I had some proper gelatin molds, because I think this would have looked better in the shape of a fluted mini-tower. I’m already getting tired of the bundt pattern. The flamingos lend it a classy touch, though – food styling by Archie McPhee.
I’ve always been intrigued by this sort of dessert. There’s something so appealing – I’d almost go as far as to say “sexy” – about its light, creamy appearance, and I always imagine it’s going to taste like a cool, sweet cloud. I don’t think I’ve ever had a traditional Bavarian, but this version is not particularly light. As I said yesterday, I like the lemon/almond flavor, and I would say that it does taste light, but there’s a heaviness, not a richness so much as plain old weight, about the Cool Whip. As I ate it, I got the sense that possibly it was reconstituting itself into a lump of vegetable fats and high-fructose corn syrup in my stomach. The canned peaches weren’t nearly as bad as I was expecting, but I wish they had asserted their flavor more, because peaches and cream is such a delightful combination. I also wish I’d been able to dice them finer, but their texture didn’t lend itself to that. I would’ve ended up with mush if I’d tried.
All in all, it wasn’t too bad. It reminded me of the ambrosia salad (some of you may know this as five-cup salad) that my grandmother used to make for holidays. Ambrosia salad consists simply of sour cream, flaked coconut, crushed pineapple, mandarin oranges, and miniature marshmallows, which must be white, because with the colored ones it’s just disgusting. It can be garnished with maraschino cherries, but I don’t like maraschino cherries. I still like ambrosia salad, but I’m just about the only one I know who does. I’ve tried making it for parties, and I usually end up eating it myself for days afterward because everybody else turns his nose up at it. Anyway, the marshmallows act as a binding agent, and their texture once they’ve soaked up the moisture from the sour cream and fruit is what is recalled by the Bavarian. Take that as you will.
Not everyone was so keen. Here’s a candid snapshot of Bryan eating his Bavarois de Pêche du Mont Phénomène. This was the expression on his face for most of the time he was eating it. I had to promise him that if he finished that dish I wouldn’t make him eat any more. I may have to bring the rest to work. That could be good for a laugh…