“Roast beef and carrots and things like that are all very well, but kids, husbands and guests never get quite as worked up over them as they do over dessert. With Jell-O Gelatin they can get as excited as they please, because it’s so light, wholesome, and nourishing.”
(Joys of Jell-O, Introduction to Dessert, page 5)
What, exactly, were people doing with Jell-o in the 60’s? I asked my parents this question after thumbing though this vintage cookbook, the Joys of Jello, published in 1963. My mom quickly reminded me of my Grandmother’s Jell-o concoction from my childhood, which I still love. It was lime (or sometimes raspberry) flavored Jell-o blended with cottage cheese and canned pears. Here’s a similar recipe. She would set it in a loaf pan and serve us big scoops of it for breakfast. I have the recipe handwritten by her, which I treasure. (She wrote several of her recipes down for me as a handmade cookbook years before she passed. Like, 10 years before she passed. She always like to be prepared.) And yes, it sounds weird and texturally awful, but it works and I did love it as a kid.
This isn’t technically a cookbook, and to be fair it’s not labeled as one. This is a recipe book centered around all the amazing ways you can use Jell-o Brand Gelatin Dessert and even includes a chapter with tips and tricks to get your gelatin to unfold just like you see in the advertisements! (The secret, if you’re wondering is just what you’d expect. Make sure the Jell-o is firm and completely set, use warm water to loosen the mold and flip over on to a chilled plate. You’re welcome, your Jell-o will now be the hit of the bakesale.) And you too could receive your very own copy of Joys of Jello from General Mills by sending in 50 cents and 3 fruit illustrations (or 12 fruit illustrations- bargain!) with your name and address to PO box 1332 in Kankakee, Illinois.
It’s surprising is how expansive this book is. The sweet stuff, Jell-o as a dessert, makes sense. And it’s very conducive to fruit, of course. But the stuff in this book is weirder than that. There are a lot of savory recipes, with vegetables. Lots of Jell-o salads, with shrimp or tuna. And lots of molded Jell-o creations — which is exactly what I think of when I think of food in this time period. The Jell-o mold. Who knew there were that many uses for Jell-o?
Some of the recipes are ones I would be willing to try. In fact, I would like to update this post with some successful attempts at things like Milk Sherbet (‘an easy and delicious sherbert for all occasions’) Creamy Freeze (‘use any fruit flavored gelatin for this smooth, creamy frozen dessert’) or the DeLuxe Cherry Dessert (‘a fluffy topping covers a delicious dark sweet cherry mixture’). All of these things really do sound delightful.
You will not, however, convince me that Birthday Surprise, “a shimmering colorful ring of gelatin filled with ice cream” can replace a birthday cake. What makes you think this is an acceptable substitute for cake? Because you added ice cream in the center? Why would you even do that? I don’t care how fancy that mold is, unless you’re celebrating in a nursing home, the only Jell-o at your party should be in the form of shots. GTFOH with that fake ass cake.
Jell-o captured the imagination of many a housewife in the 50’s and 60’s, when the pre-packaged and shelf stable foods were emerging as the latest advancements in modern convenience. This book, with it’s perfectly campy recipes and visual styling illustrates the attitude toward food at the time; easy, nutritious, fast, impressive and convenient are words that are thrown around a lot in this booklet. All words used to describe Jell-o, a product that’s been around since 1897.
Allow me to share with you some of the weird shit that graced the dinner parties of the 1960’s, courtesy of Jell-o brand gelatin, and General Foods Kitchens:
- Frosty Melon: cantaloupe or honeydew melon filled with fruit chunks and gelatin; while the outside of the peeled melon is slathered in cream cheese frosting.
- Avocado Strawberry Ring: a green gelatin ring made with avocado, mayonnaise and lemon or lime Jell-o, the center of which is filled with fresh strawberries.
- Mint Glazed Pears: pears poached in liquid lime gelatin and flavored with mint extract.
- Apple Tuna Mold: A molded salad with apples, tuna and celery set into lime gelatin.
- Vegetables in Sour Cream: Veggies molded into lemon Jell-o with bullion, sour cream and vinegar.
- Old Fashioned Cole Slaw: Cole slaw mixed with citrus flavored (orange, lemon, lime; your choice) set into gelatin cubes. Yes, that would be cubes of gel-lied slaw. (Recipe to the right)
- Barbecue Salad: This is a regular lettuce-based salad, with the addition of barbecue-flavored Jell-o cubes on top. A variation on this recipe is the Barbecue Cheese Cracker Pie, which is exactly as the name implies. A barbecue gelatin set into a pie crust made of cheese-flavored crackers. It is suggested to serve this as an appetizer with seafood. (Recipe and image to the right)
If you’re looking for some updated ways to use Jell-o, check out the JelloMold Mistress and Joys of Jello blogs, or take a look at the Bad and Ugly of Retro Food for more on the Jell-o recipe books series. Find more vintage recipes on our Vintage Cookbooks board via Pinterest.
About this series: I love vintage cookbooks and vintage recipes. They are gorgeous pieces of Americana, little time capsules reflecting trends and fads of their eras. They give us a peek into more than the kitchen, but into the lifestyles of the generations that were writing and utilizing them. I plan to make this a regular series and you can find more here.