I’ve had Jell-O on my mind lately. This box of Jell-O 1-2-3 is one of many quirky and wonderful food gifts my friend Ann has given me over the years—everything from delectable cupcakes to the can of “mushy peas in mint flavoured sauce” she brought me from England, to comforting chicken potpies.
If you ate Jell-O 1-2-3 in the 70s, you’ll recall its mysterious separation into a parfait of predictable Jell-O on the bottom, a lacier layer in the middle, and delicate foam on top. Like most people my age, I ate lots of Jell-O growing up—all the jewel-like colors, studded with everything from fruit cocktail to banana slices to mini marshmallows. My first cooking lessons consisted of stirring the sugary powder for the requisite two minutes after my mother poured in the boiling water, then stirring it again after adding the cold water. I’m hoarding this rare box of the 1-2-3 variety. Who knows? It might be worth thousands some day on eBay.
In the time of my life I’ll call the Vegetarian Years, I eschewed Jell-O because it purportedly had horses’ hooves in it. I’ve since learned that this isn’t precisely so. Gelatin is made from animal collagen, which is extracted from animal skin and bones. So while we can rest easy knowing that Mr. Ed’s hooves weren’t chopped up for Jell-O, it hardly qualifies as a whole or natural food.
Nonetheless, I ate an entire bowl of it the day after I had a root canal a couple of months ago. I substituted apricot nectar for the cold water, which makes the Jell-O just slightly chewy and, at least I think so, delicious. I’ve never been tempted to lace Jell-O with rum or tequila to make Jell-O shots. An alcohol-Jell-O mix flies in the face of my childhood memories of this food.
I’m part of a group of volunteers who provide respite care for hospice patients, usually just sitting with them so that their caregiver, most often a spouse or adult child, can go out for a few hours. When I called to confirm a recent visit, I asked the daughter if I could bring her mother some ice cream. Her mother has had little appetite lately, but I cling to a naïve belief that ice cream can fix most things. No, her daughter said. She wouldn’t eat any ice cream. “But she might eat some Jell-O,” she said hopefully.
So I arrived with my Pyrex dish of raspberry Jell-O, made with peach nectar. The visit following that one, my Pyrex was on the kitchen table, empty and washed. The daughter told me her mother hadn’t eaten the Jell-O, and isn’t eating much of anything now. “But I tore it up,” she said. It took me just a second to realize that she really liked it.