Say “Jell-O” or “Jell-O mold” in today’s society and people are likely to picture a hospital lunch tray or a scene from the ’60s period drama “Mad Men,” but not a modern dinner table.
Truth is, this 116-year-old product still slides off supermarket shelves with surprising speed, and the baby boom-era Jell-O mold is quivering its way back into mainstream culture as a retro dessert.
Roanoke native Victoria Belanger, who now lives in New York, could consider herself a pioneer of the Jell-O comeback. For five years, she has maintained a blog called The Jello Mold Mistress of Brooklyn, and last year her first cookbook, “H ello, J ell-O!,” (Ten Speed Press, $16.99) was published.
The 35-year-old photographer’s obsession with flavored gelatin was born out of frugality. While unemployed in 2009, she found that Jell-O was a cheap, easy dessert to bring to dinner parties. But as she played with the squishy, jewel-toned substance, she began to perceive it as more than just food. It felt like art.
“Initially when I got into it, it seemed fun. It seemed kitschy. It felt like making a food sculpture and also it was inexpensive and everybody was broke,” she said. “Nobody could afford $6 cupcakes, which was all the rage at the time.”
The characterization of Jell-O as a poor man’s food traces back to 1897, when its invention gave working-class families the ability to enjoy something that had, until then, only appeared on the tables of the well-to-do.
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Click here to see recipes for a strawberry cheesecake Jell-O mold and chai tea panna cotta cups.
Do you like Jell-O? I haven’t made any or eaten any in a while, but this column has put me in the mood for it. I’ve always been a fan of Jell-O. When we were growing up, we’d make a bowl of Jell-O with fruit cocktail and eat that with whipped cream for a cool summer dessert.
But my all-time favorite Jell-O recipe is my paternal grandmother’s Darn Good Salad. It’s made with lemon Jell-O, miniature marshmallows, Cool Whip, grated carrots and crushed pineapple. I thought I’d shared that recipe before, but I can’t find it now. I have it at home so I’ll be sure to post it very soon!