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The Jell-O Kid

August 08, 1996|DIANE MOONEY

Jell-O makes me think of the clock in my mother's bright yellow kitchen. I used to stare at that flat round face and try to make sense of the jumble of numbers and hands.

Counting wasn't the problem. I knew that Jell-O needed to be stirred for two minutes--that was 60 plus 60. And the 6 on the clock was easy. When the little hand landed there it was dinner time. But how that circle added up to time for school and bed was beyond me.

As were lima beans. I'd sit forlornly in front of my cold beans and watch the little hand capture the 7 while my brothers and sister, who had cleaned their plates, got to dig into swirly parfait cups of red and yellow Jell-O.

And when my mother wised up to the speed-set method of Jell-O preparation, there were more lessons. Stir in ice cubes and the waiting time for Jell-O dropped from three hours to 30 minutes. That was the big hand sweeping halfway around from 12 to 6 or 10 to 4 or 3 to 9.

Numbers fell into place. Seconds lined up into minutes, which made up hours. I could tell time.

Even better, my parents got tired of trying to make four children join the clean-plate club. Lima beans disappeared. Jell-O ruled.

Sadly, its reign was short-lived. With our teenaged years, thin came in and dessert was out. Boxes of the stuff were left forgotten in dusty back corners of our kitchen cabinets. It was the end of an era.

But you can't keep a good gelatin down. After I moved from sunny Florida to foggy San Francisco, Jell-O reappeared, transformed into something I'd never seen in my mother's kitchen. The nice Japanese woman at my new job brought lime Jell-O mixed with mayonnaise, avocado and pineapple. One spoonful and I was in love. Less successful was her hot-dog-and-cheese sushi roll. No one wants to eat a contradiction.

Now I wanted more Jell-O. My sister came to my rescue with a copy of "Treasured Southern Family Recipes" (Hastings House 1966). Southerners believe Jell-O is not just for dessert and, to prove it, the book included jellied salad recipes that called for blue cheese and lime gelatin. And there was an orange gelatin with olives and cabbage.

When I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner, the time didn't seem right for testing these intriguing dishes, so I opted for Zesty Coca-Cola Salad with cherries and nuts and skipped the decorative dollops of mayonnaise recommended by the authors. It didn't replace pumpkin pie as a family holiday favorite, but it wasn't half bad.

After I escaped San Francisco and came to Los Angeles, the land of potluck barbecues, my gelatin skills evolved. After all, anyone could bring potato salad or a six-pack, but Jell-O, folded, mixed and molded, made party memories. Red, White and Blue Dessert from "Any Time's a Party" (Quail Ridge Press, 1981) was so enticing on the Fourth of July that the ex-singer of a well-known art band had to be forcibly restrained from grabbing fistfuls right out of the serving dish. Party, indeed!

RED, WHITE AND BLUE DESSERT

This recipe is from "Any Time's a Party" by Barbara Cook, Grace Toler and Creath Fowler.

1 (3-ounce) package strawberry gelatin

Water

1 pint strawberries, sliced

2 (1/4-ounce) envelopes unflavored gelatin

1/4 cup sugar

1 (16-ounce) container sour cream

1 (3-ounce) package lemon gelatin

1 (16-ounce) package frozen blueberries, thawed (or use fresh)

Prepare strawberry gelatin with water according to package directions and refrigerate until mixture mounds when dropped from spoon, 2 to 3 hours in refrigerator or 1 hour in freezer.

Fold in sliced strawberries. Pour into 8-cup mold or 13x9-inch oven-proof casserole. Refrigerate.

Put 1/2 cup water in small saucepan and sprinkle in unflavored gelatin. Stir over low heat until dissolved. Stir 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 tablespoons dissolved gelatin into sour cream. Pour "white" mixture into mold over "red." Chill until almost set, 1 hour in refrigerator.

Prepare lemon gelatin with water according to package directions. Place 1/2 cup lemon gelatin mixture and blueberries into blender and blend at low speed until smooth. Pour mixture into remaining lemon gelatin. Stir in remaining unflavored gelatin and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Refrigerate separately until mixture mounds when dropped from spoon. Pour "blue" layer over "red" and "white." Refrigerate until firm, several hours. Unmold and serve.

Makes 12 servings.

Each serving contains about:

157 calories; 61 mg sodium; 17 mg cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 20 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.45 gram fiber.

ZESTY COCA-COLA SALAD

This recipe comes from "Southern Family Recipes."

1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple

1 (16-ounce) jar dark sweet cherries

1/4 cup sugar

2 (3-ounce) packages cherry gelatin

1 cup chopped nuts

2 cups Coca-Cola, ice cold

Drain pineapple and cherries, combining juices. Heat juices to boiling and add sugar. Remove from heat. Add gelatin and dissolve thoroughly. Add pineapple, cherries, nuts and Coca-Cola. Pour 3/4-inch deep in 13x9-inch baking pan and chill until set, several hours or overnight. Cut in squares and serve on crisp lettuce leaves, topping with mayonnaise.

Makes 8 servings.

Each serving contains about:

254 calories; 45 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 9 grams fat; 43 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.49 gram fiber.

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