Aspic Aquarium, 1960 – A Crazy Mid-Century Gelatin Test

Posted on Mar 22 2017 - 4:32am by RetroRuth

This week we have a really crazy and fun gelatin for you guys. It’s actually kind of a dream of mine that has finally happened. I present to you (finally!) the Aspic Aquarium!


In all its glory!

5.0 from 5 reviews
Aspic Aquarium
  • Unflavored gelatin
  • 1 teaspoon Lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Blue food coloring
  • Greens for plants (escarole, parsley, scallion, rosemary)
  • Vegetables for sea creatures (peppers, carrots, onions)
  • Shrimp
  • Shell macaroni
  • Broccoli or Cauliflower
  1. Prepare clear gelatin. Flavor with lemon juice, touch of sugar. Add drop of blue vegetable color.Pour thin layer in loaf pan or bowl. Chill until slightly thickened. Prop escarole sprigs, parsley, and scallion to pan edge, suspended upside down.
  2. Next, the fish! Press bright pimiento "fish" cut-outs into first layer. Continue making gelatin layers with vegetable "fish" (cucumber, carrot), at different levels. Mold last layer with shrimp, shell macaroni and cauliflowerettes for "ocean bed."
  3. Unmold!


Now, I would absolutely love to take credit for this one, but it was actually made by a friend of mine, Carolyn.  I have made a lot of really great friends through this blog, but Carolyn has the distinction of being a good, normal friend that I introduced to the crazy world of vintage recipes. And she totally loves them, which makes me happy because she loves to hear me yammer about my latest research, or help me test my crazy food experiments or just occasionally leave nice comments on the blog.

So a couple days before TJ was born, I got a text from Carolyn asking if we were around. Carolyn is always doing nice things like bringing me ridiculous amounts of her homemade pulled pork and bringing over her daughter to play with Alex, so I texted back, “Yep, we’re here!”, thinking that maybe she was stopping by on her way downtown or something like that.

Then she rang the doorbell and showed up with two of her friends, her two children, and her husband.

And they brought me not one. Not two. But THREE aspic aquariums.


“Wow, you put a lot of gelatin in these.” I said.

“Yeah, well, the only person who could have advised us is you, and this was supposed to be a surprise.”

Now, Carolyn and her friends are all scientists who happen to work with bugs and fish, so they made them as accurate as vegetables would allow. And since they were going for realism, they decided to make one “dead” aquarium and two “live” ones.




I love overachievers.

They dropped them off, helped me unmold them and cheered when they looked cool. Then they took some Halloween candy, wished me luck and took off because I was having crazy contractions and just generally getting ready to have TJ, which wasn’t a fun process.

But here are a bunch of production photos that were taken by Carolyn since I wasn’t there when these were made. In fact, I don’t even have a picture of Tom trying these because soon after this I headed into the hospital so we didn’t even get a chance to “enjoy” them. But Carolyn reads the comments regularly, so she might be able to answer questions if you have any!  Enjoy the creation of three Aspic Aquariums!

Tequila makes everything better.


Suspend “plants”, in this case rosemary, with thread and tape.


Fashion aquatic animals out of things like mini peppers, carrots, snap peas and artichokes. They’re entomologists, so they favor things without an exoskeleton like octopuses and squids.


Mix 6 packets unflavored gelatin in 1 cup cold water. (They wanted a “hard” set to help hold the veggie marine life in place. You can use less if you want.) Add a cup of boiling water and 2 tbsp. sugar until dissolved. Add 3 more cups cold water and about 1 tbsp. lemon juice. Color with 1-2 drops of blue food coloring. The materials scientist helped with this part.


Pour, layer animals (using more tape, toothpicks, chopsticks, whatever you can find to hold things in place), and let set in freezer for about 20 minutes.



Put more animals in, mix and pour layers of gelatin, let set, repeat.


Layer cooked shell macaroni, shrimp, broccoli, and other “bottom” items.


FINAL step: Let the expert do the unmolding. And be amazed that this actually worked.



-We used a glass 4-cup measuring cup for the “dead” aquarium, and 2-L plastic jam containers for the others. We lined the inside of the jam containers with masking tape to make a “smooth” surface but just wound up with a weird texture on the outside of the “live” gelatins.

-If you’re only making one aquarium of this size, downsize the amount of gelatin you make (1.2 packets gelatin to 1 cup water; 3 packets gelatin to 2.5 cups water).

-It was helpful to add a little gelatin glue between a fish body and tail and let them set before trying to suspend them. For the octopus, it helped to add a very thin layer of gelatin at the “leg” phase, reset floating legs, and let set before pouring a thicker layer. We definitely had to reset floating things once we’d placed the gelatin in the freezer.

-We untied the “plants” once we had about a layer left to pour and let them go swervy.

-We used an entire box of unflavored gelatin packets and drank a whole bottle of tequila while making these.

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I love everything retro, vintage, mid-century, kitsch and all things atomic! A 21st century housewife just trying to fit the 50's. I have a passion for vintage recipes and an enormous vintage cookbook collection that I keep testing, even though by now I should know better. Creator of Mid-Century Menu (, No Pattern Required (, and I Ate The 80's (

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22 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Eartha Kitsch March 22, 2017 at 11:43 am - Reply

    Wow! I LOVE these people! Those aquariums look really great too. 🙂

  2. Melinda March 22, 2017 at 11:49 am - Reply

    You have such great friends! And they can really hold their liquor. Lol. This is one of the funniest things ive ever seen..

  3. EdithKeeler March 22, 2017 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    Ok… these are awesome! However, I think aspic is totally disgusting, so I want to make as a sweet dessert with Jello. Substitute fruit for the begetables, I guess… Anyway, too much fun and VERY ARTISTIC!!

    • Cassie May 13, 2017 at 11:49 am - Reply

      You could also use Swedish fish and other gummy candies.

  4. Sandra March 22, 2017 at 12:08 pm - Reply

    That is by far, the coolest mid-century gelatin madness I’ve ever seen. Carolyn has the patience of Michel Angelo.

    By the way, are you guys Canadian? Noted the cool shirt.

    Cheers, from Ottawa!

    • Carolyn March 22, 2017 at 1:28 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the compliment on the shirt! Only I (Carolyn) am Canadian. I spend a silly amount of time explaining why Smarties are delicious (as opposed to those yucky Rockets a.k.a. U.S. Smarties). Cheers!

  5. Ejia March 22, 2017 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    Please tell me nobody actually tried to eat these. And if so, that they didn’t eat them with mayonnaise.

  6. Daria March 22, 2017 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    Amazing! I like the texture on the outside – makes it look more “oceanic.” These remind me of trinkets my grandmother had from Florida, with real sea life suspended in plastic.

  7. Laura (Untwisted Vintage) March 22, 2017 at 1:36 pm - Reply

    What an amazing gift! You have lovely friends. I love how they made the squid and octopus.

  8. Lassie March 22, 2017 at 1:40 pm - Reply

    What fun! and how nice there are such good friends in the world. Very nice to read. I’ve seen that blocky aquarium in the ad and admired it. The three small ones look wonderful, the octopus and squid! Eeeeee!

  9. Sara In AZ March 22, 2017 at 2:18 pm - Reply

    Wow! What can I say….this is EPIC!

  10. Wink Fantastico March 22, 2017 at 3:35 pm - Reply

    I have been wanting to make this for what seems like years, and I’m so glad that somebody else did instead! Carolyn and pals, you are wonderful.

  11. Anji March 22, 2017 at 5:14 pm - Reply

    This is SO cool. I’ve never seen anything like it before!

  12. Stephanie March 22, 2017 at 10:14 pm - Reply

    This. Is. Incredible. What a labor of love! For both them and you. So sorry you couldn’t dig into these…since you were giving birth to a human being. But, wow!

  13. Susan March 23, 2017 at 9:18 am - Reply

    Great job!

    This brings me back to my Garde Manger classes in culinary school at Johnson & Wales. Oh the horror! LOL!

  14. Lisa B. March 25, 2017 at 2:28 pm - Reply

    Probably (at least) 20 years ago, there was an article in our newspaper with instructions to make a Jello aquarium.

    It called for using a brand new glass aquarium (a flat sided round one), Nerds candy for the pebbles, vegetables for aquatic plants, and gummy swedish fish candy.

    It was made using the layering technique, but right side up as it wasn’t to be unmolded, just scooped out of the bowl for serving.

    I thought it was so cute, I cut it out and mailed it to one of our exchange students in France, because she LOVED Jello, along with a whole bunch of boxes of blue Jello.

  15. Onyx March 26, 2017 at 12:52 am - Reply

    Oh I LOVE this. What a brilliant idea!

  16. OLD AND GRUMPY March 28, 2017 at 7:25 pm - Reply

    I have to show this to the 6 year old. She went to the Aquarium of the Pacific today . Told the 3 year old to look for the peanut butter fish in the tank next to the jelly fish.She is my kitchen helper.

    Will probably down size the first try to make it easy. Kid size cups.

    Now I just need to find a way to explain to her mom why she needs Tequila for this.

    5 stars for fun.

  17. Lis March 28, 2017 at 9:25 pm - Reply

    What a fun project! Awesome and creative work! It’s hard to believe this was considered a really chic party idea. My daughter and I just found your blog and love it!

  18. Max Dupree May 4, 2017 at 8:55 am - Reply

    There’s a version of this that is sweet! You can use blue jello and gummy fish and worms! I have always wanted to make this but so far only the rainbow jello mold complexity achieved.

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