Tag Archives: strawberry Jell-O

Virgin Recipes: Cool Cubes, Banana-Marshmallow Special

Today we’re back to the kids’ stuff, and doubling up to get that much closer to finishing by the end of the year.

Cool Cubes

parfait glasses with grape Jell-O layered with green grapes, topped with whipped cream

Cool Cubes

Cool Cubes is an Orange Boycott recipe that originally called for orange Jell-O and mandarin orange sections. Luckily, this is a pretty simple recipe that’s easy to make with other flavors and fruit. All it is, really, is Cubed Gelatin layered in a tall glass with fruit, so I went with grape Jell-O and, for contrast, green grapes. In my not so humble opinion, this was probably nicer looking and tastier than the original recipe, which would have been quite boring.

Somehow, there was whipped cream left over from last week’s Fruit Flavor Flakes, so I used it to top our Cool Cubes. To be honest, though, grape Jell-O doesn’t go as well with cream as the berry or peach flavors. It wasn’t bad, just… I mean, you wouldn’t make an ice cream float with grape soda, would you?

I asked Bryan if he liked cubed or flaked gelatin better. He was noncommittal.

Banana-Marshmallow Special

small plastic cups of Banana-Marshmallow Special

Banana-Marshmallow Special

Banana-Marshmallow Special was the more kidlike of these two, probably because of the inclusion of miniature marshmallows.

It wasn’t as simple to make as Cool Cubes, which is why, I imagine, I managed to screw it up a little bit. The recipe says to make a single batch of strawberry Jell-O and chill until almost set, to prevent the marshmallows from floating to the top. Well, I was using the trusty cold-water bath method to chill the Jell-O, but I didn’t have quite enough ice, and I was getting a little impatient, so I added the banana slices and marshmallows when the Jell-O was thick, but not quite almost set. I added extra marshmallows and banana slices, so there wasn’t so much a problem with solid ingredients floating to the surface, but the powdered sugar coating on the marshmallows came off in the viscous Jell-O and formed a sort of colloidal suspension in the gelatin, which is why the Jell-O part looks a bit cloudy. I wonder if a kid would do better, but I rather doubt it.

The Jell-O with marshmallows and bananas in it gets put in glasses, dishes or paper cups to set. There’s another Junior Cooks recipe coming up that says to put the Jell-O in paper cups, and that got me to thinking that maybe I could use Dixie riddle cups for these recipes. That just goes to show how far away from any kid-centered orbit I am, because it turns out that Dixie riddle cups went away a long time ago, and failed to stick around past a short-lived revival twenty years ago. The designs on modern paper cups just don’t appeal to me, so instead I got some reusable plastic cup containers, which will make it easier for me to bring the leftovers to work for lunch.

I added some mini-marshmallow to the top of the Jell-O in the cups – I don’t know why, because it’s not like this wasn’t sweet enough already. It’s what kid-me would have done, for sure.

We ate Cool Cubes and Banana-Marshmallow Special in one sitting. Unsurprisingly, Bryan preferred the Banana-Marshmallow Special, mainly because of the marshmallows. I think I preferred the Cool Cubes, though, and this was more because of the bananas. I don’t love bananas in Jell-O. It’s mainly a texture thing. Although I like bananas, there’s something a little creepy about them. They make me think about bugs, especially the more ripe they are. The bananas I used in this recipe were ones I had bought at the supermarket the same morning I made the Jell-O, so it’s not like they were very ripe, but they were a weird texture in a dish that was, let’s be honest, all weird textures, very firm Jell-O and marshmallows that had softened a bit from contact with the thick-but-not-set gelatin.

Still, there was something about Banana-Marshmallow Special that really said “1970s” to me. I think kid-me would have really liked it. 50-year-old me wasn’t so keen on the way the sugar had coated my mouth when I was done eating it. I’m starting to understand why people might be keen to recapture their lost youth.

Virgin Recipe: Strawberry Supreme

photo from book

Strawberry Supreme, circa 1974

Strawberry Supreme isn’t a particularly seasonal recipe. I probably scheduled it for this time of year because it’s just barely past fresh strawberry season here in New England – which doesn’t really matter, because Strawberry Supreme calls for frozen strawberries. Jell-O has no season.

This is one of those two-parters, with half of the gelatin in straight jelly form with fruit suspended in it, and the other half (the top half) a bavarian with vanilla ice cream. The recipe says to prepare two packages of strawberry Jell-O and then separate the liquid gelatin into two parts to make the two different components of the dish. I’ve been in this game long enough now to know that this can be tricky, timing-wise, and I decided to prepare each component separately, one Jell-O package at a time. It probably takes a little longer, but at least this way I didn’t suffer from premature gelling.

The first part, the jelly part, was prepared the usual way, dissolving a package of Jell-O in a cup of boiling water, adding a cup of cold water, adding ten ounces of frozen strawberries (the only kind that comes in ten-ounce packages at the Super Stop’n’Shop is some fancy-dancy organic brand, but the berries were actually decent) and then chilling until thickened over an ice-water bath. The gelatin was doled out into dessert glasses (the recipe specifies “sherbet glasses”, which I don’t have and am not sure what they are) and stowed in the fridge during the preparation of…

The bavarian part was a package of strawberry Jell-O dissolved in a cup of boiling water, with a half-cup of cold water added. The recipe says to then chill until slightly thickened and then add a cup of softened ice cream. I guess I didn’t read it carefully enough, because I just saw the part about adding ice cream, thought that it was stupid to add ice cream to already-chilled gelatin, and just added what I was estimating was a half-pint from a pint of Ben & Jerry’s vanilla bean with a small scoop to melt into the hot gelatin liquid. (After I finished making the dish, I ate the rest of the ice cream, straight out of the container like in my college days, and it seemed as though there was more than half the pint left in there…) The bavarian part also included one and a half tablespoons each of rum and brandy, and two tablespoons of Cointreau. Once the ice cream was pretty well melted down, I chilled this over the ice-water bath, beating it with a whisk in a desperate, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to achieve the “bubbly” consistency described in the recipe. Maybe I should have recruited the MixMaster Junior to help out, but I think if the bavarian part had achieved a greater volume, it wouldn’t have fit into the glasses with the jelly part.

three glasses of different sizes with layered strawberry gelatin

Strawberry Supreme á la Freak Mountain

Incidentally, while we already had brandy and Cointreau, there was no rum in our oddball assortment of liqueurs and liquor, so we had to make a special visit to our friendly neighborhood hipster liquor store. (Due to popular demand, they now stock “pong balls” and red Solo cups.) I now have nearly a quart of rum. And a lot of mint growing wild in the yard. Anyone got a good mojito recipe?

In the end, Strawberry Supreme was not very different from the other strawberry bavarians I’ve made so far in the Project. Bryan described it as “relatively inoffensive”, and after taking the time and expense to get the rum, the booze was barely detectable – a hint of citrus flavor, a slight burn on the tongue. The absolute best thing about Strawberry Supreme, honestly, was that during this long weekend of “beach weather” it felt good to hold and eat something cold.

Part of the reason I’m posting on Monday instead of Sunday is that I was thinking I’d say something about the 4th of July, since I’ve been having Thoughts. On the other hand, I’m pretty burnt out on politics, and reluctant to lecture anybody. If you’ve been following NJoJ for a while, you know how I feel about the current regime. I’ll just say, if you’re wondering how I feel about my country these days, “It’s complicated”.

I do have a couple of links to share. One concerns that fellow Frederick Douglass, who I hear is being recognized more and more, and I guess that’s why his July 5, 1852 speech in Rochester, New York has gone viral. Seriously, though, while we celebrate our independence tomorrow, I think we should give a thought to all the people who didn’t benefit from it 241 years ago, and the people who are still struggling for a place at the table for a fair share of freedom’s rewards.

The other link is for Stephen Colbert’s #AmericanGreatness hashtag on Twitter. (Even better, if you use Twitter just check out the @StephenAtHome feed, as he seems to be filtering out trolls.) People from all over the country have been posting an amazing and inspiring variety of photos of the things that make the U.S. truly great, from natural beauty to thriving cities to more intimate shots of family moments. Politics is transitory; these are the things that will endure. I’m so grateful to Colbert for doing this. It’s something we really need right now.

Virgin Recipe: Strawberry Bavarian Pie

white Squier strat

New arrival at Freak Mountain

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.

strawberry pie in chocolate crumb crust with ugly-ass Cool Whip dollops

Strawberry Bavarian Pie á la Freak Mountain

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.

photo of pie from book

Strawberry Bavarian Pie circa 1974

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:

Recipe Reboot: Strawberry Yogurt Whip

two dishes of indeterminate Jell-O variant with dollops of Cool Whip on top

Pink stuff with Cool Whip dollops, circa 2009

I call this a “recipe reboot”, but I still have my notes from when I made this the first time around, for posting on October 5, 2009. In fact, it was the first recipe where I made notes as I prepared and tasted it. I must have decided to reboot it because I don’t have photos – or, rather, I have some photos of something pink that might have been Strawberry Yogurt Whip, with a time-stamp from around the right date, but whatever the pink stuff is, it doesn’t look very “whipped”, so I can’t be sure. Anyway, Strawberry Yogurt Whip is one of those “Nice Easy Things to Do with Jell-O”, so reprising it now is no great hardship.

The recipe lists four ingredients, two of which are water, so this is basically Jell-O, slightly thickened, whipped together with yogurt and chilled until firm. Sounds simple enough, but another reason that I decided to reboot this is because I was not entirely happy with the result using strawberry yogurt as specified in the recipe. Back in 2009, I used Stoneyfield Farms lowfat fruit-on-the-bottom, and regretted using the lowfat version. Also, individual-serving yogurt cups were downsized from eight ounces to six ounces some time ago, so I had to buy two servings, mix them together, and measure out a cup. Boo hoo.

three clear glass teacups with bright pink, frothy Jell-O in them

Strawberry Yogurt Whip, circa 1974

Also, I found myself wondering about yogurt now versus yogurt in 1974. As I recall, in the early 1970s, yogurt was still fairly exotic to the middle-American palate. It was health food, or food for “nut’n’berry freaks”. The only time I ever had yogurt back then was when I was playing at the home of my friend who lived next door. Her mother was kind of a hippie, and a single mom when that sort of thing was much less common than it is today. They had furniture made out of big electrical wire spools (that I envied then, and still do), a lot of artsy-crafty things to do, and for snacks, crunchy-granola things like yogurt. My family were kind of the opposite of hippies; we had Ethan Allen furniture, and no yogurt.

Having googled it just now, I see that there’s a little more to the history of yogurt in the U.S. than my recollections suggest. I was thinking that maybe yogurt that was available to users of The New Joys of Jell-O in 1974 would be more “pure” than a lot of yogurts today that are full of sugar, thickeners, and preservatives. Not so, according to this New Yorker article from 2013 about the recent Greek yogurt trend. Manufacturers were adding thickeners and sweeteners to yogurt during the 1950s and 1960s, even as it was being marketed as a health food. However, it took Dannon’s ad campaign in the 1970s touting yogurt’s longevity-granting health benefits to push it into the mainstream.

So yogurt in 1974 was probably a lot like yogurt that’s available now, apart from the package size. Even so, I decided to use plain Fage full-fat Greek yogurt, which turned out to be a good call. The tartness of the plain yogurt balances perfectly with the sweetness of the Jell-O, giving Strawberry Yogurt Whip an almost-real strawberry flavor. I’m not too worried about the fat in the yogurt; I figure it’s got to be better for me than thickeners and extra sugar, and has a better flavor, too. My guess is that Strawberry Yogurt Whip is more of a “health food” than a lot of yogurts on the market today.

three glasses of whipped Jell-O garnished with strawberry slices

Strawberry Yogurt Whip á la Freak Mountain

This one also has very nice visual appeal (a pleasant pink color, as opposed to the neon pink of the photo from the book) and, to my mind, an interesting texture. I’ve liked the whipped gelatins from the first one I did, although Bryan disagrees with me there. He thinks they’re weird. I think when you’re making over a hundred Jell-O recipes, the more variation you have, the better. I will admit that this can be weird, texture-wise, if you don’t put them in the dessert glasses quickly enough. I think you can kind of see in the photo how the foamy part becomes a “head” on top of some more placid Jell-O, especially in the kitty-kat glass. I ate one of those, and found myself a little creeped out by the transition from foamy to smooth Jell-O.

Still, if you have kids and you’re trying to get more calcium-rich foods into them, this might not be a bad way to do it. Strawberry Yogurt Whip is a bit of all right.


me, Sonya, and Maura on bass; behind Sonya, awesome drummer Julie

First – and last – performance by the Silver Daisies. April 9, 2017 (ONCE, Somerville, MA; photo by Wei Yu)

Incidentally, if you noticed there was no post last week and expected a nasty Jell-O this week, I’m sorry to disappoint, but I took the weekend off Jell-O’ing to do a “rock camp”. I mentioned it a few posts ago, and I’m happy to report that I did not get demoted to cowbell, although I was given a standard-tuned electric guitar and expected to play proper chords. The whole thing turned out to be a mixed bag for me, but I’m glad I did it – and also glad it’s over and done with, though I really enjoyed jamming with the Silver Daisies and am wondering how I can get more of that into my life.

Virgin Recipe: Alaska Surprise

… featuring guest taster JB!

This recipe sounded like it might be a good one for company, and as it happened our friend JB was in need of some diversion, so we invited him to Freak Mountain for a lunch of Bryan’s baked mac’n’cheese, and Jell-O. JB is one of the people who helped to convince me to reboot the blog, so this was long overdue.

Given what we’ve been doing here, it probably won’t come as much of a surprise that Alaska Surprise is baked Alaska, but with Jell-O (any red flavor) instead of ice cream. (Surprise!) The preparation is a little time-consuming because it’s in three stages, done hours apart. First, there’s a batch of clear Jell-O made with a half-cup of ginger ale instead of cold water, which has to be chilled until firm and then cut into cubes. Second, there’s a batch of Jell-O made with a pint of vanilla ice cream instead of cold liquid, which is thickened, and the cubes of clear Jell-O are stirred into it.

Jell-O mold, pink creamy gelatin with darker cubes in it

Alaska Surprise – the naked mold

This is put in either a load pan or a four-cup mold and chilled until firm. The Jell-O gets unmolded and chilled again. As I think you can see in the photo above, I experienced the same problem I had with Crown Jewel Cake, where the creamy gelatin didn’t adhere to the clear Jell-O cubes, which led to cracking and separation.

pink Jell-O with red cubes and meringue on the sides

Very soft meringue around the sides of the mold. The growing crack in the top is clearly visible here.

The third stage is the meringue, done shortly before serving. The directions in the book don’t call for cream of tartar, and I tried whipping up a meringue as directed without it, but it wouldn’t stiffen up properly and I ended up adding a little cream of tartar, which helped, although I think my meringue was still a bit soft for this.

(While I made the meringue, JB raided our cookbook collection for Bryan’s stash of vintage ice cream recipe books. For nearly 30 years, JB has been hosting an annual weekend-long event of camping and creative ice-cream-making that makes the Project seem tame.)

Jell-O mold covered in meringue

Jell-O mold covered in meringue

The mold is sitting on a round of foil because I wanted to be able to transfer it easily from a plate onto whatever I was going to use to put it under the broiler. I mulled over this a fair bit. The book says to put the mold on a board covered with foil. I don’t know who might happen to have a board laying around the kitchen that’s the right size for this, but I sure don’t, so I ended up sliding the mold onto a baking sheet.

very well done meringue

Blink, and suddenly you’ve got blackened meringue…

The meringue ended up very well done on top, and hardly at all on the sides. In my defense, this is my first time using our broiler, and Bryan was not particularly forthcoming with advice on how to use it. The over tends to be slow, so I guess I was assuming the broiler would be, too, especially since it’s electric (in a gas oven, what?), but the coils heated up quickly.

Alaska Surprise with a serving spooned out of it

Alaska… Surprise!

Even though this was only in the oven for maybe a minute and a half, the creamy Jell-O got all melty, not quite liquid but very soft, and the Jell-O cubes were kind of swimming in it. I made regular baked Alaska once when I was a teenager, and the ice cream didn’t melt this much – but, of course, part of the trick to baked Alaska is that you make sure the ice cream is frozen hard before you coat it in meringue and broil it, The Jell-O isn’t as cold, so it starts out closer to melting temperature. That’s science, people.

Bryan and JB thought that maybe I wouldn’t have had so much of a melting issue if I had broiled it on something less heat conductive, but I’m not so sure, because the baking pan didn’t actually get that hot. One thing that might have helped that’s a usual part of baked Alaska is a layer of pound cake on the bottom. A round of pound cake underneath the mold might have insulated it from any heat transferred from the baking sheet, and also soaked up some of the melted Jell-O, which would have been rather nice in its own right. I considered trying that, but after last week’s major deviation from the plot, I wanted to follow this recipe more closely. If anyone really wants to try making their own Alaska Surprise, I would advise going with the pound cake bottom.

For eating, this was intensely sweet. I used strawberry flavored Jell-O because it’s my favorite red flavor, but in retrospect maybe raspberry, which is a little more tart, would have been better. I didn’t care much for the combination of textures, but JB seemed to find it interesting. Both he and Bryan ate all of the servings I gave them but didn’t go for seconds, and we all needed something to drink afterwards.

One thing I realized was that the ginger ale wasn’t noticeable in the clear Jell-O. When I mentioned it to JB, he mused that maybe using something with a more intense flavor would have worked better. I told him about how I’d tried substituting ginger beer for ginger ale once and found that the stronger ginger flavor didn’t really do anything for the recipe. He had an interesting insight, that maybe the ginger ale is meant to enhance the flavor of the Jell-O (as bay leaves do in savory dishes), rather than giving additional flavor to it. That sounds plausible. Let’s go with that.

Afterwards, the sugar coma we experienced lent itself to a viewing of a couple of episodes of series one of Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy. If you happen to be out of your favorite recreational substance, it turns out that Alaska Surprise is a reasonable substitute.

A big thanks and hugs to JB for Jell-O’ing with us today!

Virgin Recipe: Strawberry Chiffon

two-layer gelatin mold on serving platter

Strawberry Chiffon (I swear, someday I’m going to get the hang of centering a jelly mold on a plate…)

Well, this is the last Jell-O before the election, so I’m glad that it’s a fairly nice one.

two packages strawberry Jell-O, fresh strawberries, Cool Whip

Strawberry Chiffon ingredients

As shown in the book, Strawberry Chiffon is just a variant on Cherry Chiffon, with strawberry Jell-O and strawberries instead of cherry Jell-O and cherries.

The recipe calls for fresh strawberries, and it turns out that even with all the fruit that comes to us year-round from California and Florida, it’s still a little tricky to find fresh strawberries in the supermarket in November. Shelf space in the produce section needs to be given over to things like apples and pumpkins, and the icky candied fruit that people put in fruitcakes. Luckily, there were some containers of pre-hulled strawberries in the prepared-fruit section, so I grabbed a couple of those. One of them worked out to be about a cup and a half of strawberry slices, a half-cup more than the recipe says, so that was perfect. (We had the other container of berries with breakfast this morning.)

The only other interesting aspect to preparing this was that, since the recipe specifies it, I decided to give another chance to the quick-set method of adding ice to the hot liquid gelatin. I was a little surprised to find that this time it actually worked. I suspect it might have something to do with the weather; now that fall is well and truly upon us, it’s getting cooler in the house, giving those ice cubes a better chance to chill the gelatin before they melt.

I didn’t want to use my Tupperware ring mold for this, because I figured it would end up looking too much like Cherry Chiffon, and where’s the fun in that? I went with the brain mold instead, partly because it’s the right volume for the recipe, and partly in honor of Chris Hardwick, host of “Talking Dead”* (and the panel show “@midnight”, and creator of the Nerdist empire), whose comedy show we went to see in Boston on Friday. I got the tickets during the pre-sale months ago, and I picked two front-row seats just because I could. The seating on the floor was cabaret-style, tiny round tables with four chairs to a table, the chairs facing to the sides rather than facing the stage. Bryan took the seat nearer the stage (he said he thought it would be hard for me to see over the lip of the stage, a likely story) which meant he was sitting right up against it.

As Chris got into his set, he began interacting with the audience. He came over to our side of the stage and remarked that we were practically sitting under it, and those had to be either the worst seats in the house, or the best. Then he knelt down, put a firm hand on Bryan’s shoulder, and asked Bryan what he did for a living. Bryan froze. It was like the scene in “A Christmas Story” where Ralphie goes to see Santa, except that instead of squeaking out “a… a football…” Bryan squeaked out “production editor”. Chris asked him what that was, and Bryan just couldn’t answer (eventually he managed “I make sure books come out good”), at which point Chris started giving him a hard time about being startled by this guy we’ve seen on the TV suddenly asking him questions. To be honest, Chris did look a little menacing – but it was hilarious. I suppose I should have jumped in and said something (I was thinking, “Dude, just ask me something, it’ll go quicker”) but I couldn’t stop laughing. This seems to be a pattern we’re developing, where Bryan falls into a hole, and rather than help him out of it I just stand by watching and laughing. I’m a bad wife.

Anyway, it was a fun evening with a lot of much needed laughter – and here I should also give a shout out to Chris’s friend, fellow comedian Mike Firman, who opened for him and closed with him and is also very funny, if not particularly menacing – so I guess I owe Chris Hardwick a tribute Jell-O, at least.

closeup of brain-shaped Jell-O mold

Strawberry Chiffon brain, up close

So Strawberry Chiffon turned out to be expectedly pleasant. We both wished that the strawberries were better, but in a way it was good that they weren’t super-sweet fresh and ripe, because that made the dish overall less sweet. I definitely recommend going with more than a cup of the fruit.

I continue to be intrigued by the bavarian part. I think that if I can make time to branch out more into off-book experimentation I’d like to see where I can go with it.

* I’ve been watching “The Walking Dead” since the beginning. I’m not the sort of person you’d expect to be making lots of Jell-O, am I?

Halloween Special: A Spectacular Jell-O Fail

I wasn’t planning to do a Halloween Jell-O project, but a week before the holiday, my friend K– tagged me in a Facebook post with a link to a video about making Jell-O “worms in dirt”:

It looked  feasible, and like something that wouldn’t take a tremendous amount of time (the video is deceptively short) so I decided to attempt it over the weekend.

I got off to a bad start, believe it or not, trying to find drinking straws. Bryan and I went to Target first, because we had some other shopping to do and figured we could do it most efficiently there. I already had the Jell-O, unflavored gelatin, cream, and food coloring, so I only needed to get straws and Oreos for this recipe. Oreos were not a problem, but our local Target doesn’t appear to carry drinking straws. Well, no big deal, the Star Market is on the way home from Target, so we stopped there. We found straws, but not the standard straws you’d use to drink a root beer float or an egg cream. No, the only straws at the Star were meant for frozen drinks at parties, brightly colored and narrow. We couldn’t chase all over town for straws because at some point we had a Halloween party to get ready for, so we got a few boxes of the least narrow straws they had and returned to Freak Mountain.

two glasses with bundles of straws, next to a package or Oreos

Arranging straws, keeping my eyes on the prize…

Making the gelatin that was to become worms was easy, just a double batch of strawberry Jell-O with a packet of Knox unflavored gelatin, mixed with 3/4 cup heavy cream tinted with 15 drops of green food coloring. One thing I will say, the color was perfect – very wormlike.

The problem with this recipe is the mechanics of it. I started out splitting 100 straws between two drinking glasses, which looked like a reasonable setup. I bundled up the straws with twist ties, and started pouring the still-liquid gelatin into the first bundle. Perhaps not surprisingly to someone more science-minded than I am, the gelatin ran right out of the bottoms of the straws and began filling up the glass. As the gelatin got close to the top of the glass, I realized that the gelatin would overflow the glass well before the straws got anywhere near full.

bundle of straws in pitcher, coated with viscous gelatin

Jell-O thickening, it’s impossible to tell whether it’s filling the straws.

I searched my kitchen for a taller vessel, and settled on an aluminum retro-style pitcher. It’s about as tall as the straws, but much wider than all 100 straws bundled together. At least the gelatin wouldn’t overflow it.

Now I had a new problem – the Jell-O was starting to set. By the time I was ready to pour it over the bundle of straws in the pitcher, it was becoming viscous and rather than flowing into the straws it was sliding over the top and down the sides of the bundle. I found myself patting thick gelatin into the tops of the straws, hoping it would flow down into them and stay there. I even scooped up handfuls of gelatin from the pitcher to pat into the tops of the straws. It was not pleasant. Finally, I decided I’d done all I could and put the pitcher in the fridge.

If, at that point, I thought the worst was over, I was wrong.

More than 24 hours later, I removed the pitcher from the refrigerator. The Jell-O had set up very firm, as it was supposed to. So firm that I couldn’t pull the straws out of the pool of gelatin that was surrounding them. I used a knife, and then a spoon, to remove as much of that gelatin as I could, throwing at least a regular-batch quantity of gelatin into the kitchen sink. After a while, I’d cleared out enough that I could start pulling out straws.

Another problem was that the jelly-coated straws were slippery and hard to grip. As I started extruding jelly from the straws, I found that it was difficult and frustrating to do it with just my hands. I hit upon the solution of holding the tops of the straws in my teeth, which worked pretty well except for a bit of drooling. It took me about 45 minutes to extrude the Jell-O that was in the straws, and this is what I ended up with:

small quantity of Jell-O worms in a glass bowl

This is maybe a half-cup of “worms”.

Let’s review. I made 3 3/4 cups of Jell-O, and the photo above shows the quantity of not-very-wormlike worms I got out of it, maybe a half-cup altogether. The level of Jell-O in the straws was lower than the level of the Jell-O surrounding the straws in the pitcher. The short worms I got out of the straws weren’t even smooth and nice like the ones in the video. That half-cup of set Jell-O looked more like ground beef than worms.

Your Humble Narrator in VaultTec jumpsuit

This year’s costume – Fallout, natch.

I’m guessing that I needed a container as tall as the straws and just wide enough to hold all 100 of them in a tight bundle. Even then, I think the volume of that arrangement would have been less than the volume of Jell-O I’d prepared. Wider straws would almost certainly have been better. I should have spent more time finding better straws, calculated the volume I’d need a container to be, and then gone looking for a container with just the proper proportions to get this to come out right. Really. Who has time for that?

I decided that this was perhaps the stupidest Jell-O project I’ve done so far, giving even Frosted Fresh Grapes a run for its money. When I was making it, it occurred to me that this is a recipe that has “stay-at-home mom” written all over it, because who else would take the time to fool around one-by-one with 100+ drinking straws. I now suspect that this recipe is a hoax put out on the internet to make stay-at-home moms feel inadequate. Somebody should be ashamed of themselves.

But, as Bryan pointed out, whatever happened we still had that package of Oreos…

Happy Halloween!