Sunday, December 13, 2009

Retro Jell-O Recipe No. 62,499

Here is another recipe for you—a vintage Jell-O recipe from the 1930s. It has been a while since I last gave you a Jell-O recipe, hasn't it!

Everyone likes the taste of this one. We love it for a light dessert—remember, “There’s always room for Jell-O”!

It is also good for parties and potlucks this time of year. The presentation can be very striking. It’s supposed to look like an oceanic scene, combining a quenching clarity with the mysterious, murky depths.

Although versions of this recipe are available all over, I got this recipe from the wonderful and gloriously fun book Jell-O: A Biography: The History and Mystery of “America’s Most Famous Dessert,” by Carolyn Wyman (San Diego: Harcourt, 2001), which is another book I strongly recommend. If you think it’s “funny” how previous generations of home cooks got so doggone enthusiastic over Jell-O, you ought to read this book and get a fun little history lesson.

Again, as is my wont, I’m copying this exactly out of the book. The recipe appears on page 47. My notes appear at the end.

’30s: Under-the-Sea Salad

1 can (16 ounces) pear halves in syrup, undrained
1 cup boiling water
1 (3-ounce) package lime Jell-O gelatin
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 (3-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

Drain pears, reserving 3/4 cup of the syrup. Dice pears; set aside. Stir in boiling water into gelatin and salt in medium bowl at least 2 minutes until completely dissolved. Stir in reserved syrup and lemon juice. Pour 1 1/4 cups into 8 x 4 loaf pan or 4-cup mold. Refrigerate about 1 hour or until set but not firm (should stick to finger when touched and should mound).

Meanwhile, stir remaining gelatin gradually into cream cheese in large bowl with wire whisk until smooth. Stir in pears and cinnamon. Spoon over gelatin layer in pan. Refrigerate 4 hours or until firm. Unmold. Garnish with cinnamon, if desired. Serves 6.

Okay, my friends, here are the notes I promised you:

1. Some recipes I’ve seen for this use ground ginger instead of cinnamon. And that’s good, too. Yum-yum!

2. It’s also common for versions of this recipe to suggest serving it on a platter lined with leaf lettuce. The platter is also sometimes garnished with seedless grapes. (I’d use red seedless for the visual contrast.) Indeed, sometimes you see halved red seedless grapes molded within this concoction, as well.

3. I use Neufchatel cheese instead of cream cheese. Less fat that way. . . Although now you would probably just use a single 8-ounce box instead of the recommended “2 (3-ounce) packages” . . . oh, whatever.

. . . By the way, here is what it looks like prior to unmolding/being turned upside-down:

4. Finally, some hints on construction and unmolding, in case you’re new to the wacky world of Jell-O cookery. Unmolding will be easier if you put a thin layer of vegetable oil on the inside of your mold or loaf pan before putting any Jell-O into it. And seriously, make sure the finished salad is indeed truly firm before attempting to unmold. Prior to unmolding, you can dip the exterior of the mold holding your finished gelatin into warm or hot water to help it release, but don’t do it too long, or the Jell-O inside will melt too much. Finally, the Jell-O slides out of the mold easier if, just prior to unmolding, you have broken the suction by running a butter knife or thin spatula along the inside of the mold.


Dunraven said...

You forgot the thin layer of mayonnaise my grandmother would put on the top...

Julie said...

Hah! I was "holding the mayo" because of the braunschweiger ball last week! (, I don't think the original recipe that came from the home economists in the Jell-O kitchens recommended mayo on this one--your grandma must have gotten creative! (Of course, mayo was common on or in all sorts of Jell-O "salads.") (Seriously, isn't cream cheese + mayo a little much, even for a Jell-O salad?)

Shelda said...

That's actually fairly scary ;) I did have a moment there of thinking I really should check out that cookbook and learn about the history of jello. And then I thought... um... maybe not.

Julie said...

"Jell-O: A Biography" is not really a cookbook so much as it is a fun, humorous, and richly illustrated book about the history and culture of Jell-O, from Rose O'Neill and the Kewpies to Jack Benny to Bill Cosby to John Belushi and the Blue Man Group.

The recipes in this book are included mainly for interest and range from funky retro recipes such as "Glorified Rice" and "Jell-O Horseradish Relish" to newer ones, like "Jigglers" and how to make margarita Jell-O shots, and how to construct an exploding Jell-O spider for Halloween.

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