So, I’ve been trying to take advantage of a long holiday weekend that has turned out to be far too short. On Saturday I finally got an electric guitar, a Squier (budget-range Fender) stratocaster, and a cool little practice amplifier that has a USB port (for digital recording, hopefully) and a bunch of built-in effects to keep me happily distorted until I’m ready to start shopping for pedals. I have a strap and some lesson books on order, so I’m on my way, though I tend to think that probably I’ll end up being to the guitar what Inspector Clouseau was to the violin. But we’ll see.
Meanwhile, our cat Ida has been slowly recovering from what appears to have been some sort of mental breakdown a few weeks ago, during which she decided that she hated our other cat, Sam (her offspring), and took up residence on top of the kitchen cabinets. Feeding her up there was fine, but she perceived coming down to use the litter box as a journey fraught with peril, and this was not a situation that we could allow to continue. On Friday evening we got her down and set up in the bedroom, where she seems to be gradually getting back to normal, but we still don’t know what happened. Even the vet seems mystified so far.
Just to add to the fun (and freak out the cats some more), a little while ago we had a plumber here trying to deal with our weird European tankless furnace/water-heater “combi” unit because the hot water suddenly cut out yesterday. The plumbing issues always seem to crop up on long holiday weekends, so that they’ll be as expensive as possible. $300 so far, and we still have no hot water.
So I’ve been a bit less focused on the Jell-O this week, but I did make a Strawberry Bavarian Pie for you.
To be honest, this wasn’t very interesting, just another Cool Whip bavarian, with frozen strawberries mixed in. The recipe calls for a nine-inch pie shell, but again I decided to go with a chocolate crumb crust because that makes this dessert a little more of a treat. As you can see, I attempted to use leftover Cool Whip to garnish the pie, and I’m way off my dollop game.
It occurs to me that despite everything else I had going on this weekend, I was still able to prepare this dessert, so in a way it was fulfilling the function for which it was intended. On some level, I was emulating the housewives for whom these recipes were created, women who were busy taking care of their families and felt that a nice dessert was part of a good family dinner (anyone else remember back in the day when it was usual and expected that families would eat dinner together?) but didn’t necessarily have time for something fancier. Actually, Strawberry Bavarian Pie would have been kind of a special dessert after supper when I was a kid.
Bryan and I tasted this after the plumber left, and for us it wasn’t so special. I told Bryan about how the recipe calls for an addition of a tablespoon of sugar to the gelatin, which I think might have been meant to balance out tartness in the strawberries. We both thought it was odd, given how sweet Cool Whip is, but then it occurred to us that Cool Whip might not have been quite as sweet back in the day. Looking at the history of high fructose corn syrup, it’s likely that these Jell-O and Cool Whip “no-bake pies” were developed before HFCS was widely adopted as a sweetener in mass-produced food products. (That might help explain why, much as kids my age were junk-food junkies back in the 1970s, few of us were obese.) We mulled over how it might be possible to find out what the ingredients in Cool Whip would have been in 1974, thinking that perhaps it would be possible to find vintage tubs on eBay or something like that. I didn’t find any vintage tubs, but I did fall down a rabbit hole of vintage Cool Whip commercials going back to 1966, when Cool Whip first hit the market, including the “Tucker Inn” series, which any child of the 1970s will remember. This one is especially relevant:
With this one, I felt like I was finally doing something right – until I learned that today is National Ice Cream Day.
Fresh Strawberry Pie is the sort of no-bake dessert that uplifted the spirits of 1970s moms. Central air conditioning was less common in homes then than it is now, so summertime cuisine was heavy on things we think of as picnic or cookout food – salads instead of cooked vegetables or hot pasta dishes, potato chips instead of mashed or French fried potatoes, meats cooked outside on the grill (by Dad, usually), and of course no-bake desserts. Anything to avoid heating up the kitchen, which I understand completely because Freak Mountain has no air conditioning of any sort.
The crust can be either a regular pie shell or a crumb crust, and when temperatures are in the 90s Fahrenheit (30s Celcius) as they’ve been this weekend, bashing up some cookies and mixing them with melted butter is a damn good option. I was going to make a chocolate crumb crust using Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers and Nilla Wafers per Mother Wonderful’s Cheesecake and Other Goodies (my go-to cheesecake recipe book for the last 25 years) but while we were in the supermarket I gave in to the temptation to try a crust made with Oreos instead, because that seemed like it would be more true to the Project somehow. It turned out really well. The main problem was that I only needed two thirds of the package of Oreos for the crust, leaving a third of a package of Oreos for, well, lunch. Okay, I didn’t eat all of them, and I ate them with the leftover strawberries, so that cancels out some of the calories, right?
Heat like we’ve been having this weekend seemed like it might make the Jell-O part a little trickier. The pie filling goes in two parts, a Cool Whip bavarian made with half of the Jell-O that goes on top of the crust, and then the remainder of the Jell-O combined with fresh strawberries which goes into the middle of the pie. I used the ice water bath technique to thicken the bavarian part (another reason this recipe is nice to do in hot weather) but it wouldn’t thicken up to the “mounding” stage for some reason. I thought maybe it had to do with the heat, since the ice was melting quickly in the water. Should I have used more ice? Salted the water? Anyway, it didn’t work as described in the recipe, but it worked well enough. One odd addition to this part of the recipe is red food coloring. The recipe calls for a few drops, so I added four. It made absolutely no difference whatsoever. Now I’m getting chills thinking of all the kids of my generation who unwittingly ingested an unnecessary dose of Red Dye #2 with this.
The Jell-O/strawberry part (thickened over a fresh ice water bath) went just the way it was supposed to and ended up floating nicely on the bavarian in the center of the pie.
I seem to be developing the habit of going to the gym to lift before tasting my Jell-O creations so that I come at them hungry. That probably wasn’t necessary with this recipe, but it certainly didn’t hurt (especially after all those Oreos I ate yesterday). The bavarian part firmed up more in the refrigerator overnight, so I was able to get a fairly clean slice. Since I had leftover Cool Whip, I decided to garnish my slice with one of those famous Cool Whip dollops – and discovered that it was softer than Cool Whip should be. Aha! Maybe the bavarian’s refusal to set up completely wasn’t my fault after all.
For eating, this is reasonably pleasant. I think I’ve remarked before that strawberry is one of the less offensive artificial flavors, and it goes well with cream, even fake cream. The real strawberries make the whole thing more refreshing. My main quibble is that the Oreo crust is too sweet, but that’s totally my fault. (And Bryan remarked that it seems silly to complain that the cookie crust of your Jell-O pie is too sweet.) I would go for the wafer cookie crust if I was going to make this again. To be honest, that’s unlikely, given how nutritionally questionable this is, but I do think we’ll end up eating all of this particular pie.
That said, this relatively nice one was certainly welcome at the end of what turned out to be another crazy week. I’m starting to feel leery even of NPR (and I’ve been an NPR junkie for 30 years), and I’m doing whatever I can to keep my spirits up. The Project is helping, and so is the gym. (Lifting is a meditative activity for me because of the focus I need to bring to it.) We’ve been loading up on the British comedies, and I’ve been mainlining Loose Tapestries, ELO and early Pink Floyd, staying hopped up on whimsy. The 1970s are making more and more sense to me…
Since it’s the dead of winter, and we’re expecting even more snow over the next few days, I guess I’ll continue with the sunny citrus theme.
A Proustian Moment
I re-made this on December 13 (i.e., 12/13/14) for a Winter Solstice party given by R– and V–. The Winter Solstice party is a tradition in our extended social circle that, I’m proud to say, was started by A– and me back in 1987, in our tiny apartment in a metro-west Boston suburb. It ballooned significantly the following year when we did it at Fandom House, attracting guests from as far away as NYC and the Washington, DC area. In the Fandom House years, I insisted upon making gingerbread cookies and popcorn/cranberry garlands to decorate our Solstice Tree (efforts in which my housemates participated with a bare minimum of enthusiasm; now that I’m older and wiser, I don’t blame them) and for food we seeded the party with vegetarian chili (made as spicy as A– could stand, so pretty damn hot), chips and dip (classic sour cream and onion soup mix), crudités, pizelle cookies and Nutella. Guests would bring their own contributions of food and drink, and then when provisions started running low, around midnight, R– would turn up after an evening working at his delivery business, Vidigo (a non-web-based forerunner of Kozmo.com) with the end-of-day chicken and biscuits leftovers from the Porter Square Popeye’s, and everyone would feast and drink some more. Several hours later, the cold light of morning would shine on the party guests who had spent the night, scattered across our floors, and we’d send A– out for Dunkin Donuts and coffee.
So, fueled by these memories, I expected that a Winter Solstice party would be a good place to trot out a Jell-O recipe, and I set out to make Lemon Chiffon Pie.
There are good things and bad things about this recipe, mainly good things. The best part, as with Orange Snow, is that it involves real, fresh ingredients, and grating and juicing a lemon are such pleasant, fragrant activities, and I know that the lemon will make the recipe taste that much nicer. Also, there is a custard component to the recipe, and preparing it requires attention and focus that make this into something of a meditative activity – Zen and the Art of Lemon Chiffon Pie. But that brings us to the bad part, the cooking of the eggs. Three slightly beaten egg yolks, a cup of water, and a quarter cup of sugar are cooked in a saucepan over low heat, and if this mixture is cooked too hot or too fast it becomes a sort of sweet egg-drop soup, which isn’t good for anything. The thing is, the book says to cook the mixture until it just comes to a boil, and I learned the hard way (again, as I did five years ago) that letting it come to a boil is overcooking it. I had to throw out a batch and start again – and this time I crossed out that part in the recipe.
Another thing I like about Lemon Chiffon Pie is that the “chiffon” part involves beaten egg whites. In general, I really like working with beaten egg whites, and again, getting them right takes a bit of attention and skill. This time I beat them up just a tad too stiff, making it difficult to incorporate them into the chilled custard/Jell-O mixture. However, since I’d made the mistake of making this on the day, instead of the night before, I had to just go with it.
Actually, it didn’t turn out too badly. After heaping the lemony egg mixture into a pre-baked pie crust (store brand, not as good as the name brand crust I used years ago) there was still a good amount left, and I put that into a couple of dessert glasses and popped all of it into the fridge to chill and firm up. Before going to the party we sampled the extra lemon filling, and it was pretty good, so I felt much better about bringing the pie to the party.
This may come as a shock to some of you, but a lot has changed in the last 25-30 years. Back in the day, food just got placed on the table and devoured. When we arrived at the party a couple of months ago, we were handed a notecard and asked to list all the ingredients of what we’d brought, and then I knew that Lemon Chiffon Pie was sunk. It looked and tasted delicious on its own, but a label proclaiming Jell-O as an ingredient, well, I figured that was the dessert equivalent of the bell and tin cup of the leper. About half of it got eaten before we left, which was a better outcome than I was expecting, and I did catch someone sampling it who admitted to liking it.
I’ll spare you – this time – from my rant about the current widespread persnicketiness about food. For now, let me just say that it shouldn’t be so difficult to enjoy something so fluffy and lemony.
Originally posted December 6, 2009
First of all, I’d like to apologize for the time lag in posting and in responding to comments. I’ve been battling a cold all week and pretty much just crashing after supper. Luckily, it hasn’t progressed beyond a mild head cold and didn’t turn out to be swine flu, which is what we all worry about when we get the sniffles these days. The curative properties of Jell-O, maybe?
Anyway, thanks to The Joy of Jello Project, until the middle of next August, “holiday” to me means “captive audience.” It also means “an opportunity to inflict some Jell-O on my in-laws.”
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I managed to get out of work a little early, got in a leg workout at the gym, ate supper, and spent three hours making two Jell-O recipes. I selected the reasonably pleasant-sounding Pink Lady Pie, and for that seasonal flavor I selected Layered Cranberry-Apple Mold.
Pink Lady Pie
Pink Lady Pie was one of the more interesting ones to make so far because it’s fairly involved. The first step was prebaking a pie crust, and in the spirit of NJoJ and 1974, I used a Mrs. Smith’s pie crust I found in the freezer case at the supermarket. (It turned out to be pretty decent, probably better than what I could have made from scratch.) I made the filling while waiting for the nicely browned crust to cool. I had to heat three egg yolks, water and sugar over a double-boiler until the mixture was slightly thickened. It had been a long time since I’d used a double-boiler, so on my first attempt I overheated the water and ended up cooking the eggs. I had to dump them and start over. For once we had plenty of eggs in the fridge, and my second attempt was successful.
Here things started to get a little funky. The Jell-O was supposed to be added to and dissolved in the egg mixture. The raspberry Jell-O I happened to have on hand was the sugar-free kind. Even in boiling water it’s difficult to get sugar-free Jell-O to dissolve completely, and it proved to be impossible in the merely hot water/egg/sugar mixture. I ended up with little specks of semi-dissolved gelatin throughout the mixture, and judging by the appearance I didn’t think this was so bad, as it gave it a suggestion of naturalness – always a welcome result with Jell-O.
While the egg/gelatin mixture thickened over an ice water bath, I prepared a packet of Dream Whip, and then whipped up three egg whites with sugar and a little vanilla extract to make a meringue. First the meringue and then half of the Dream Whip got folded together with the gelatin mixture to make a fluffy girly-pink filling for the pie shell.
After chilling overnight the pie filling was firm, and on Thanksgiving morning I got out the piping bag and a star tip and decorated the pie with the rest of the Dream Whip. I was doing better than I expected with the piping bag, until I was finished and then somehow managed to express a random blob of Whip onto the pie. Still, it doesn’t look so bad, does it?
Well, the proof of the Jell-O is in the eating, and it didn’t taste so bad either. I had to add a nasty for the Dream Whip, which continues to leave me underwhelmed, and for the undissolved specks of Jell-O, which had a peculiar rubbery texture reminiscent of mouse cartilage.
Layered Cranberry-Apple Mold
Layered Cranberry-Apple Mold is stealth scary. It sounds innocent enough – two great tastes that go great together and all that. However, the top layer contains canned whole-berry cranberry sauce (not scary to a lot of you, maybe, but I strongly prefer the jellied kind) and the bottom layer contains – oh, I don’t think I’ll give it away just yet.
It started out like the beginning sequence of a 1970s horror movie, where nice, normal people are doing something pleasant, not realizing that a chainsaw-wielding maniac or a phalanx of zombies lurks in their near future. I dissolved two packages of lemon Jell-O, a quarter-cup of sugar and a quarter-teaspoon of salt in two cups of boiling water. I added a cup and a half of cran-apple drink and set aside two cups of the resulting liquid, adding my cranberry sauce to the remainder and chilling that over ice water until it was thickened. This was poured into my bundt pan, which I thought would do for the eight-cup ring mold specified in the recipe, and popped it into the fridge.
This is the point where the sun was just slipping below the horizon and one normal person, probably the dorky guy (somebody’s younger brother, maybe) had disappeared into the woods/house/mall and his friends were starting to get worried. I chilled the set-aside two cups of gelatin mixture over my ice water bath until it was thickened. (Cue theremin or screechy strings.) Then I added – two cups of Cool Whip! And then (crescendo) a quarter-cup of mayonnaise!
(Temporary release of tension.) I folded in a finely-chopped apple, and carefully spooned this layer onto the cranberry layer and put it all into the refrigerator to chill overnight.
(Amping up the score again for more deaths, and a gory denouement….) The unmolding was only semi-successful, as I failed to get it even remotely centered on the bottom part of the Rubbermaid cake carrier I was going to use to transport the Jell-O to Thanksgiving dinner in outer Metro-West. The layers were at least properly melded together, but the bundt pan was again a little too large for the recipe. I’m just glad I took a photo before we packed everything up and headed out to the burbs, because this didn’t survive the drive intact. The g-forces of stop-and-go traffic were just too much for the gelatin, and the ring got pulled apart. I’m still not sure exactly how to solve this problem, apart from leaving the Jell-O in the mold until serving time. Given my mixed success with unmolding, this strikes me as a risky proposition.
As for the taste, well, as an adult I’m better able to bear things like whole-berry cranberry sauce than I was when I was a child and decided I didn’t care for them, so the top layer wasn’t so terrible. The bottom layer, however…. The flavor of the mayonnaise was definitely noticeable, and I could only conclude that its inclusion in the recipe was an act of pure sadism on the part of the General Foods R&D drones. Even drugs couldn’t explain this. While it wasn’t unbearably nasty, we didn’t want seconds.
As For The In-Laws….
I got no feedback from them, because none of them tried either dish. I suspect that my mother-in-law put out the word that I was bringing Jell-O, and every other woman in the family made a dessert, even the aunt who simply does not cook. Once again, Bryan and I were the only tasters.
So we ended up bringing home most of the Pink Lady Pie and the Layered Cranberry-Apple Mold. We ate all of the pie over the course of a couple of days, though not eagerly. Showing yet another way in which Dream Whip is a lame substitute for whipped cream, the decoration on top of the pie became gradually firmer, more the consistency of cake frosting than of cream. I guess if you look at it a certain way, it’s good that it sits there as it was when it came out of the piping bag rather than melting like real cream. I’d still rather have real cream. And the Layered Cranberry-Apple Mold – we couldn’t. We just couldn’t.