50 years ago, Jell-O wanted you to combine it with anchovies, tuna, cream cheese, and mayonnaise
Jell-O has kept pace with the populace's diet preferences since its inception in 1897. Celery Flavor had a relatively short run, but in today's age of Jell-O shots, you can by Margarita and Melon Fusion flavors if you know where to look. But mostly, Jell-O presents itself today as a children's fun food. That wasn't always so. Jell-O was once versatile enough to jiggle its way into every corner of your kitchen. Here are eight mid-century Jell-O dishes that we ought to resurrect.
1. Lemon soufflé
Did you know Jell-O could do frou-frou? I didn't. But here is the proof in this beautiful little ramekin. This is a fairly involved recipe by Jell-O standards, involving stiff-peaked egg whites and wax-paper collars. But as far as soufflé recipes go, you probably can't get any easier.
2. Under-the-sea salad
There are no fish here. There really isn't anything about this dish even vaguely reminiscent of the ocean. But no matter. This is a great example of food combinations we don't pair anymore, even though they can still add up to delicious. Sweetened cream cheese is a very common addition to fruit dishes and desserts alike, and a Jell-O topping could be the perfect light contrast to the heavy richness below.
3. Easy fruit tarts
Four ingredients. The time it takes to boil water. A container of berries and some grapes. That's basically it. That's all that stands between you and infinite praise for your charming culinary abilities at the next baby shower, dinner with friends, or office party. Don't let this slip away!
4. Birthday surprise
My daughter is 8, and she hates cake. She says it makes her throat feel "cluhhhhgggg." So for the past few birthdays I've tried every ice cream cake in the city, icebox cakes, pizza-sized cookies, candy arrangements…anything I can festoon with sprinkles and scrawl cursive frosting on. But I have never thought of this. More happy and colorful than anything I've tried before, and containing only things she loves. My awkward search is over.
5. Crown jewel dessert
Of course, as beautiful as the Birthday Surprise dessert is, it doesn't look like stained glass, nor is it easily suited for pie crust. And most of all, you can't find a gorgeous towering mold to turn it into a literal little mountain of creamy, shimmering yummy. Luckily, I have many birthdays yet for which I am responsible for providing sweet joy. All will have a turn.
6. Green goddess salad bowl
Okay, what you're looking at here is early 1970s party food, so allow me to interpret. The lime Jell-O is used to bind mayo, sour cream, anchovies, and various spices into creamy chunks, which then go on salad greens. Avocado and crab meat circle that. The diner would ideally have equal parts Jell-O chunks, lettuce, crab, and avocado. Ignoring the anchovies, which are an enigma of place and time, you're actually looking at a fine crab salad. The Jell-O has been turned into a sort of Ranch dressing, which is not inappropriate at all for the other ingredients. It's just the chunk part we're not used to.
7. Vegetable trio
When was the last time you had the pleasure of taking a nice big slice of salad? If you've spent recent years eating salad that was unkempt and disorganized (lettuce mixing randomly with carrot and so forth) it may be time for a little order in your diet. The lemon and vinegar in this recipe will keep your salad structure cool and tangy.
Sometimes older Jell-O cookbooks played pretty fast and loose with which foods were appropriate to Jell-O-ize. Tuna, perhaps, being among them. But really, the more you look at this… aren't you just a little curious? If these same ingredients — cucumber, lime, tuna, olives — were presented to you in a slightly different arrangement as haute cuisine, you'd probably like it. Just because food is green, gelatinous, and made of fish doesn't automatically make it undesirable.
All images and recipes used with expression permission of the Kraft Foods Group, Inc.
Sources: Jell-O Pudding Idea Book, 1968: Joys of Jell-O, 7th Edition: The New Joys of Jell-O, 1974