May is a magical month— full of promises and long stretches of morning and evening twilight. Most days are sunny, pleasant and fairly dry. Fields are a tender green and the new grass smells sweet. Everywhere you look along old country roads there are flowers in bloom.
It is easy to get a little nostalgic in May. We’re more apt to remember happy times from our past, and perhaps foods we ate when younger—like Jell-O. Most of us grew up eating Jell-O, and we’re happily still eating it.
In 1845, Peter Cooper invented a gelatin dessert, but the new product failed to find a market until a cough syrup manufacturer added it to his line and named it Jell-0. In 1899, the Jell-0 gelatin business was offered for sale for $35, and the offer was refused. Eventually it sold for $400. Advertising paid off when a little child named Elizabeth King became the “Jell-0 Girl” and was seen in dozens of ads assuring mothers that Jell-O was easy to fix and great for children to eat. It is not surprising that Jell-O is recognized today by 99 per cent of Americans.
Jell-O is simply delicious, so easy to prepare, and truly satisfying when served just plain, but it is popping up in many elegant desserts today. When you park your RV and make camp, you can make a bowl of Jell-O while preparing dinner. Let it sit in the refrigerator overnight, and there’s your dessert for the following evening. With a squirt of canned whipping cream, it is even elegant.
And here are some other ideas:
LEMON POKE CAKE
Bake two 9-inch round white cake layers and cool; place, top sides up, in two clean 9-inch round cake pans. Pierce cake with a large fork at one-half inch intervals. Stir 2 cups of boiling water into two 3-oz. packages or one package of the 8-serving size of lemon Jell-O in a medium bowl for at least 2 minutes or until completely dissolved. Carefully pour 1 cup of the Jell-O over one cake layer. Pour remaining Jell-O over the second cake layer. Refrigerate 3 hours. Dip one cake pan in warm water 10 seconds, unmold onto serving plate. Spread with 1 cup of Cool Whip, thawed. Unmold the second cake layer; and carefully place it on the first cake layer. Frost top and sides of cake with one or more cups of Cool Whip. Refrigerate at least one hour or until ready to serve.
LEMON ANGEL SQUARES
Pour 2 cups of boiling water on two 3-oz. packages of lemon Jell-O and stir until dissolved. Refrigerate until thickened but not set. Add enough cold water to a 6-oz. can of frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed, to measure 2 cups; stir into Jell-O. Beat until foamy. Fold into Jell-O one 8-oz. container of Cool Whip, thawed. Tear one angel food cake into about 1-inch pieces; fold cake pieces into the Jell-O mixture. Spread in ungreased rectangular baking dish, 13x9x2-inch; sprinkle with coconut (about 1/2 cup). Refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours. Cut into squares and serve.
MOLDED WINE SALAD
Drain a large can of Bing cherries, pitted, reserving juice. Heat juice—there should be 1 cup. Dissolve one 3-oz. package of cherry Jell-O in hot juice. Add 1 cup of sweet red wine; let cool. Divide cherries into four molds; fill with Jell-O and put into refrigerator until firm.
BEET AND PINEAPPLE JELL-O SALAD
Drain a can of julienne beets and a large can of crushed pineapple, saving liquid. Heat liquid with 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1/4 cup of water, and 1/4 cup of vinegar. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar and a 3-oz. package of raspberry Jell-0 and stir to dissolve. Add beets and pineapple and chill in refrigerator until firm.
PEAR CRÈME DE MENTHE MOLD
Dissolve a 3-oz. package of lime Jell-O in 1 cup of boiling water. Drain an 8-oz. can of pineapple tidbits, reserving syrup. To reserved syrup, add 3 tablespoons of crème de menthe and water to equal 3/4 cup of liquid; stir into Jell-O. Gradually whisk in 1/2 cup of sour cream. Chill till partially set. Whip till light; fold in 1 cup of pineapple tidbits and 1 cup of diced pears. Turn into a four-cup mold. Chill until firm.
This is especially good with lamb.
RHUBARB MARSHMALLOW CAKE
Stir 3 1/2 to 4 cups of cut-up rhubarb stalks, 1 cup of sugar, a 3-oz. package of strawberry Jell-O, and 4 cups of small marshmallows together; pour into a greased 9x13x2-inch pan.
Mix together one yellow or white cake mix according to directions; pour over rhubarb mixture. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven about 1 hour. Cool; cut into squares and with spatula lift and turn upside down on dessert plate. Top with dollop of Cool Whip.
And here’s a very simple but elegant dessert:
ORANGE BAVARIAN CREAM
Prepare a 3-oz. package of orange Jell-O as usual but cut some of the water and add a bit of orange juice instead. When it is partially set, whip, then add a little Cool Whip and gently mix.
Another delightful treat can be made by whipping raspberry Jell-O when partially set and adding some crushed macaroons and minced walnuts topped with Cool Whip.
Jell-O has a rich history—it has been on America’s grocery shelves for over 100 years. No wonder this homegrown product was served as a “Welcome to America” to immigrants passing through Ellis Island.
Jell-O has always been deliciously fat-free—no wonder Jell-O is America’s most famous dessert.
HINT OF THE MONTH: Put Jell-O on your next grocery list.
Marian Platt is a food writer who lives in Sequim, Washington.