Wednesday, February 18, 2015

There's Always Room for Jell-O

What To Do When You Encounter Jell-O:
1. Never let it see you're afraid. Jell-O loves this.
2. Smile. Say you are a friend, you come in peace.
3. Reason with it.
4. Offer it a gift.
5. Find out what it wants.
6. Let it see you have no weapons.
7. If it continues to jiggle menacingly, Stab it to death with a kitchen knife and throw it in the sink.

         - Dick Solomon
625704ac7ddc32441d5fd65c02254cdbWatch it jiggle. The terror from beyond space. A childhood  favorite. Hospital food. Sweet wiggly delight. Sugar laden boiled cow hooves. Put them all together they spell Jell-O. (Insert your favorite rape drug joke here).

I have developed a habit of posting photos of what I call "food oddments" to Facebook, usually in the late evening hours. It could be pictures of misspelled signs or unusual ethnic ingredients. Often it is suggestions of food combinations bizarre to me.

jello couple 1916I make a point it of selecting unique images of vintage food choices. I find them very cool. Among  the best are the Jell-O creations. Mounds of crystal clear sweetened gelatin encapsulating a pile of things never meant to be treated in such a fashion. The creations can be quite beautiful - at once attracting and repelling.

The origins of such dishes can be guessed. The evil step-child of elegant aspic chaud froid and the marketing wizzes of LeRoy, NY. The 50's and 60's brought renewed attention to French cooking as the epitome of fine dining. French cuisine came into the mainstream via Kennedy Chef René Verdon, and into the home via Julia Child. These dishes were a way for everyone to bring a bit of gourmet chic into their homes.

IMG_0114I knew at some time I would have to make one. When the annual party of friends' competitive BBQ team came around, an evening of homemade bacon, pulled pork, ribs, and brisket. There would be assorted taste treats contributed by other guests. Normally I would have made something to show off - a pâté perhaps, or a galantine. This time I was uninspired.

The brainstorm came while sorting my cookbooks. A coworker had given me a 1973 edition of The  New Joys of Jell-O and it captured my imagination. After leading through its many offerings I settled on the Jell-O version of Salade Niçoise . You can find the recipe reprinted here.
Of course I selected only the finest ingredients, beginning with Wegmans store brand chunk light tuna. Some olives from the olive bar, lettuce and nice pink winter tomatoes followed. I contributed a salt cured anchovy from my stash.

IMG_0113Then there was the Jell-O. No store brand for this. Only the real lemon-flavored deal. Pure Sugar, Gelatin, Adipic Acid (for Tartness), contains less than 2% of Natural and Artificial Flavor, Disodium Phosphate and Sodium Citrate (control acidity), Fumaric Acid (for Tartness), Yellow 5, Yellow 6, BHA (Preservative).

I have a couple of Jello molds that are used occasionally for things like pâté, but they are unsuited  for this. I settled on a silicone Bundt pan. It worked perfectly.

The end result? Some liked it. Others wouldn't even try. My friend Jerry's reaction summed up most: I expected to hate it. I didn't like it, but it wasn’t awful. As for me, it was quite good on toasted rye for lunch the next day.

Now for next year . . .

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