When my daughter, Rebecca, was visiting over the holidays, she and my wife were going through some of Nikki’s keepsake things, Nikki hoping to offload to my daughter some of the stuff we’ve been carting around, They came across this old booklet of “New Jell-O Recipes” from 1929 that had belonged to Nikki’s grandmother in Conrad, Montana. That produced some discussion because I had assumed Jell-O was one of those things that came about after World War II.
Actually Jell-O goes way back, and gelatin goes all the way back to the 1400s when gelatin, derived from boiled bones, connective tissues, and other animal products, began being used in food and desserts.
According to Wikipedia . . .
Gelatin was popularized in the west in the Victorian era with spectacular and complex “jelly moulds”. Gelatin was sold in sheets and had to be purified, which was time-consuming. Gelatin desserts were the province of Royalty and the relatively well-to-do. In 1845, a patent for powdered gelatin was obtained by industrialist Peter Cooper, who built the first American steam-powered locomotive, the Tom Thumb. This powdered gelatin was easy to manufacture and easier to use in cooking.
Forty years later the formula was sold to a LeRoy, New York- carpenter and cough syrup manufacturer, Pearle Bixby Wait. He and his wife May added strawberry, raspberry, orange and lemon flavoring to the powder and gave the product its present name in 1897. Then in 1899, Jell-O was sold to Orator Woodward, whose Genesee Pure Food Company produced the successful Grain-O health drink.
Various elements were key to Jell-O becoming a mainstream product: new technologies, such as refrigeration, powdered gelatin and machine packaging, home economics classes, and the company’s marketing.
Initially Woodward struggled to sell the powdered product. Beginning in 1902, to raise awareness, Woodward’s Genesee Pure Food Company placed advertisements in the Ladies’ Home Journal proclaiming Jell-O to be “America’s Most Famous Dessert.” Jell-O was a minor success until 1904, when Genesee Pure Food Company sent armies of salesmen into the field to distribute free Jell-O cookbooks, a pioneering marketing tactic . . .
By 1930, there appeared a vogue in American cuisine for congealed salads, and the company introduced lime-flavored Jell-O to complement the add-ins that cooks across the country were combining in these aspics and salads. Popular Jell-O recipes often included ingredients like cabbage, celery, green peppers, and even cooked pasta.
By the 1950s, salads would become so popular that Jell-O responded with savory and vegetable flavors such as celery, Italian, mixed vegetable and seasoned tomato. These savory flavors have since been discontinued . . .
The baby boom saw a significant increase in sales for Jell-O. Young mothers didn’t have the supporting community structures of earlier generations, so marketers were quick to promote easy-to-prepare prepackaged foods. By this time, creating a Jell-O dessert required simply boiling water, Jell-O and Tupperware molds . . .
In 1964, the slogan “There’s always room for Jell-O” was introduced, promoting the product as a “light dessert” that could easily be consumed even after a heavy meal.
Throughout the 1960s through the 1980s, Jell-O’s sales steadily decreased. Many Jell-O dishes, such as desserts and Jell-O salads, became special occasion foods rather than everyday items. Marketers blamed this decline on decreasing family sizes, a “fast-paced” lifestyle and women’s increasing employment. By 1986, a market study concluded that mothers with young children rarely purchased Jell-O . . .
The marketing team revisited the Jell-O recipes published in past cookbooks and rediscovered Jigglers, although the original recipe did not use that name. Jigglers are Jell-O snacks molded into fun shapes and eaten as finger food. Jell-O launched a massive marketing campaign, notable featuring Bill Cosby as spokesman. The campaign was a huge success . . .
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Jell-O’s family-friendly reputation was slightly tarnished by Jell-O shots and Jell-O wrestling.
As of 2008, there are more than 158 products sold under the Jell-O brand name with 300 million boxes of Jell-O gelatin sold in the United States each year.
For the records, again Wikipedia . . . a recipe for Jell-O shots, certainly to be a more of a hit at the next pot luck than the traditional Jell-O fruit salad:
Add vodka, rum or other alcohol to one half of the liquid after gelatin has dissolved. Quantity and timing of the addition of the alcohol are vital aspects; it is not possible to make Jell-O shots with only alcohol. [“Dry gelatin is composed of colloidal proteins. These proteins form chains that require hot water to denature them, so that they can then reform as a semisolid colloidal suspension incorporating the added water. Pure alcohol cannot be heated (without evaporation) enough to initially break down the proteins.”] It takes a little advance experimentation, but is sure to make for a memorable next church social. Warning: “The alcohol in Jell-O shots is contained within the Jell-O, so the body absorbs it slower, causing people to underestimate how much alcohol they have consumed.”
If Jell-O shots seem a bit extreme, you may want to try this delicious sounding Coffee Jell-O!
Here’s the Coffee Jell-O recipe: “Dissolve a package of Lemon Jell-O in one pint of strong coffee while it is still at the boiling point. While still hot add four tablespoons of sugar. Set away to harden. As it begins to thicken fold in one cup of cream that has been whipped. Serve garnished with sweetened whipped cream.