J-E-L-L-No

What was the deal with the fascination of jellies and aspic?No, really, this is not a rhetorical question, I sincerely want to know.  Why?  What on earth drove our forebears to dump things like sauerkraut, or hard boiled eggs, or animal organs into meat-based jello?

Was it a practical joke?  A suicide attempt?  Was it merely the fact that since they could do something, they did something, like a mad scientist creating a human/Twinkie chimera?

As bizarre as the trends in the 50s and 60s were, those folks only had to open a box of gelatin, make a big bowl of crime against nature, and chunk it in the fridge. But jellies (sweet) and aspics (savory) have been eaten since 1682.  And commercial boxed gelatin has only been around since 1842.  So for the first 160 years, hours of cooking down animal bones and hooves was the only way to get it.  You had to be profoundly motivated to do that; but people did it—a lot.

Why would they do that?  Have you ever looked at some of those jiggling mounds of horror?  It’s enough to give you nightmares.

My father is the least picky eater in the history of eating.  Not only was he raised in the “shut up and clean your plate” era, he was in the military.  If he was running late for work, he’d drink two or three raw eggs.  As children we joked that he was a human garbage disposal.This man, when asked about aspic dishes, said, “No, they’re not my thing.”

But.

Please don’t misunderstand.  There is very definitely a place for gelatin in the kitchen.

Collagen is connective tissue in long-cooking cuts of meat like pork shoulder and beef shank.  It’s basically gelatin.  When cooked down slowly, it melts and imparts to the food that unctuous, lip-smacking property which makes eating ribs and barbecues such a joyous experience.

I’ve seen recipes where unflavored gelatin is added to quick soups and stews, to mimic that mouth-feel.  It’s actually a brilliant tip.And fruit-flavored jello is great.  Whether it’s strawberry/pretzel pizza, a bowl of black cherry, or a baggy full of Knox blocks tucked inside a lunch box, sweet, crayon-colored jello is awesome.

Every year, my mom makes a special dessert for Christmas dinner.  And jello has a starring role.

Mom’s Christmas Cake

jello-cake1 box white cake mix, made according to directions in two 8 or 9 inch round cake pans

1 small box strawberry jello

1 small box lime jello

1 large tub Cool Whip, thawed

Red and green sugar

After cakes are baked, let them completely cool in the pans.

When cool, mix jello with boiling water according to directions.  Poke each cake with large fork at ½-inch intervals.  Slowly pour hot jello over cakes, one red, and one green.

Refrigerate cakes for three hours to completely set.

To unmold cakes, dip pan bottoms in hot water for 10-15 seconds, being careful to not get cakes wet.

Put one cake on serving platter and frost its top with generous dollop of Cool Whip.  Top with other cake, then frost the entire cake.  Sprinkle on colored sugar and refrigerate until service.  Keep cold so slicing and serving are easier.Serves 6-8.  

Mom likes this cake so much that some years she uses blueberry and strawberry jello, and makes it for Independence Day.

I appreciate, gentle Reader, your patience with my aspic rantings.

But as cathartic as it was to vent, I still don’t know why would people eat that stuff?  Really, why?Thanks for your time.

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