Having it all ... and then putting it in Jell-O

I woke up early Saturday morning to make a molded salad. I had to make it far enough in advance for it to set by dinnertime. The experience was not exactly how I had pictured spending my morning or what I thought I would be making for our third historical cooking meeting, but someone HAD to make a JELL-O salad... or at least that is what family, friends and colleagues said as I told them about our Betty Crocker themed dinner party. For them, it was the dish par excellence of the 1950s.

So, I bit the bullet and turned to the three pages devoted to salads set in gelatin. I chose the first recipe offered by Betty - the strawberry glacé - as it was accompanied by easy how-to photos.

Just like the imaginary Betty, otherwise known as a home economist on the corporation's staff, I rolled the cream cheese balls in walnuts, placed them in a mold, and covered them with raspberries. I prepared the JELL-O liquid and let it cool a bit. I stopped myself right before pouring it into the mold and wondered "What is missing?"

My mold didn't look as full as Betty's, so I re-read the instructions looking for some skipped ingredient, but there was none. That's it? Cream cheese. Nuts. Raspberries. Strawberry flavoured gelatin. How could this extremely simple recipe be on everyone's mind when they hear of mid-century dining?

What would Betty have answered if I had asked her what is missing? She would, most likely, have rolled her eyes and said "Where do I begin?"

Here I was, almost thirty and single, wearing sweatpants I stole from my brother, with my hair in a messy ponytail, and most of all, rushing through a recipe to get to more pressing matters like writing my dissertation and spackling the hole in my kitchen wall to stop a sneaky mouse from waltzing into my apartment whenever it feels like it. No man, no lipstick, and no patience before a first cup of coffee in the morning. Suffice to say, Betty, the quintessential American housewife, would not be impressed.

So, what is missing from this scenario? For Betty, it may be everything. For me, all I need is a coffee refill to make the picture complete. I may not be where I thought I would end up ten years ago, and am not sure how I got here, but am happy with how things have worked out.

In fact, the question for me has never been "What is missing from my life?" but "What is next?" This question pops into my head more frequently now that I'm approaching the final stages of my PhD program. So I decided to apply this same philosophy to my JELL-O salad. What else can I add? On the JELL-O package, cooks are encouraged to add anything they want - except fresh kiwi or pineapple (they would prevent the gelatin from setting). Betty also suggests that you are free to choose your own variety of "fruits, vegetables, seafood, etc." ETC.!!!

That's right. In the 1950s, the world may not have been your oyster, ladies, but the molded salad could have been. In other words, you could "have it all", as long as it was in JELL-O and wasn't a kiwi. Here are some of Betty's own combinations:

I chose to keep it simple and added blackberries.

I don't know what the blackberries represent for me, or what my next step will be - it may be a family, it may be a post-doc, it may be adopting a cat to hunt down that darn mouse. What I do know is that I am very fortunate to be able to add blackberries, or other fruit, vegetable, seafood, etc. The JELL-O salad I end up making may not be the one everyone was expecting, but it's the only one I can and want to offer. That night, when I flipped it out of the mold, it came out perfectly. The deep red colours were gorgeous. Not bad, Betty. Not bad at all.

Looking back at the 1950s, I don't just see Betty, but the more than 60 years of feminists and trailblazers who separate me from her. They are the ones that have made the blackberries available to me, and I have to thank them for allowing me to have so many different opportunities. When I turn to the future, although I am terrified by the fact that I don't know what is in store for me, I try to remember to look at the JELL-O mold half full rather than half empty.

(post by Carolynn)


  1. This is weirdly far more inspiring than any blog post about a JELL-O mold salad has a right to expect to be. Nicely done.

  2. Thanks! I still haven't tried Betty's "more adventurous" JELL-O salads ... and I'm ok with that!


Post a Comment