The many tastes of Jell-O

I’m old enough to remember Jell-O constituted a “salad” on the menu.

Do people even do that anymore?

The other day at the office we started talking about the most random things our mothers ever included in Jell-O. You know, as you do when you’ve run out of commentary on the news and no one wants to bring up politics.

From shredded cheese, to carrots, to that fake green pistachio fluff, we all shared our secret favorites.

Mine is a red Jell-O with cherry pie filling, topped with a tub of sour cream. Others have fond memories of green Jell-O with mandarin oranges suspended inside like little acrobatic fruit segments.

As a kid when I would listen to my mom and her friends talk I would hear them swapping Jell-O recipes like baseball cards. And they always come with the same phrase, “It looks awful but it really does taste good, I promise.”

That should just be put on the Jell-O package. Has anyone in the history of recipe-swapping every really trusted this phrase?

Basically, we figured out that the fillings have a regional and a generational bias to them. Some might remember the Depression when any vegetable from cabbage to green peppers could find its way into a savory Jell-O mold. Baby boomers might remember their Jell-O came out of Tupperware. And for Gen Xers and early Millennials, Jell-O just came in cut-out shapes that you could play with at the table. I remember a time when you had to wait for your Jell-O, and not buy it prepackaged in the dairy section.

Even more puzzling than the random fillings we add is that people rarely consider where Jell-O comes from. It’s just some ubiquitous powder in a little box on the shelf. I remember when my older brother spilled the beans about gelatin and its origins. I was maybe 7 or 8 and it put me off my feed for about a day or so. Just until Mom made some for supper and I couldn’t resist the wiggling orange blob on my plate.

All I can say is boiled bones sure do taste good when you add sugar and fruit.

Jell-O is in every cabinet in America. We use it for so much. It really is a mother’s secret weapon in the kitchen.

Kid got a sore throat? Red Jell-O.

Got your tonsils taken out? Green Jell-O.

Fourth of July spread? Tiers of red, white and blue Jell-O in a glass bowl.

Holiday meal? Red Jell-O with crushed cranberries, apples and oranges.

Church potluck? Jell-O pudding with a tub of Cool Whip and marshmallows.

See? It’s the Swiss Army knife of the menu.

No matter where we come from, the balance in our bank account or what our driver’s licenses claim is our age, there is always room on the plate for Jell-O—even if it’s a crazy concoction that only your family would love.

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Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or [email protected].