It’s funny when I think about it now, but there was a time in the 1970s when I was crazy about Jell-O. That’s right. When I was a young girl, I loved Jell-O — the multi-colored, fruit-flavored gelatin dessert.
I remembered my obsession for Jell-O during a conversation with my coworker, Cecelia, last week. She and I were both children of the Seventies.
“My family didn’t eat out much when I was growing up,” she noted that day. “And when we did go somewhere to eat, it was a big deal.”
Her comment sent my mind racing through time.
“We didn’t either,” I said. “But my brother played sports, and at the end of football season, they’d have a sports banquet at a western-style steakhouse on the north side of Warner Robins, and our family would always dress up and go to that.”
I continued. “The steakhouse was called, the ‘Hof Brau Haus,’ and I can remember how it smelled on the inside — like flame broiled steaks and hamburgers. They had steak fries as big around as my thumb.”
The memory made me smile.
“I remember going through the line with a tray and passing a large glass case filled with Jell-O,” I said. “It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen — that lit display case full of glass pedestal dishes with cubes of jiggly Jell-O stacked neatly in the cups. They looked like loose gems at a jewelry store — greens like emeralds, reds like rubies, yellows like citrine. Just seeing the Jell-O made my mouth water. I couldn’t wait to sit down and eat the Jell-O.”
We both laughed at the fact that the Jello-O display case made me giddy. My memories kept coming, and before I knew it, I was singing the lyrics to a song I haven’t thought about in decades.
Watch it wiggle.
See it jiggle.
Cool and smoothy, Jell-o brand gelatin.
Of all desserts, you’ll love the one, that tastes so light and makes such fun.
Make Jell-o gelatin, And make some fun.
Jell-O was an easy, inexpensive dessert. Mom bought it in powder form at the Piggly Wiggly. She mixed it with boiling water, then poured it into a ring-shaped Tupperware Jello-O mold and stuck it in the refrigerator. Sometimes, Mom would add a can of fruit cocktail to the mix. I loved to find a cherry or a grape in my Jell-O. Other times, she might cut up strawberries or bananas and stir them into the Jell-O. In my mind’s eye, I can still see the fruit chunks suspended in the Jell-O like insects preserved for eternity in golden amber resin. Sparing no opportunity to educate us young’uns, Mom would clear her throat and tell us all we needed to know about gelatin (and some things we probably didn’t want to know).
“Jell-O is gelatin,” she’d say. “They make gelatin out of the leftover meat, bones and cartilage of hogs.”
This fact made my sister nauseous, and she vowed to never eat Jell-O again. My brother was indifferent to the revelation, as if he wasn’t even paying attention to the information Mom was passing down to us. However, I was intrigued. “But it doesn’t taste like ham or bacon,” I’d say. “It tastes . . . fruity.”
“That’s because they add flavoring to it, and color,” Mom would say. “The color helps fool you.”
I was certainly fooled. When the Jell-O was sufficiently solidified in our refrigerator, Mom would dump it out onto a plate. It was magnificent — like a piece of art. I’d pause and admire it as if I were admiring a sculpture by Michelangelo.
Mom continued teaching us.
“And Jell-O is good for your fingernails,” she’d say. I didn’t really care about my fingernails back then, but now, in my 50s, I eat gelatin in the form of gummy bears to help strengthen my fingernails. It works. I’m not a big fan of Jell-O any more. I use it in recipes from time to time, but the only time I eat it “straight,” is on the clear-liquid diet days before a colonoscopy. Still, the memories of being mesmerized by Jell-O all those years ago are fond ones.