I have a very vivid memory of a family dinner that took place when I was about six years old. We had finished a perfectly normal, weeknight dinner when, as a surprise, my mom told us that there was dessert. Dessert! We never had dessert in our house unless it was a holiday or my grandparents were visiting (because…you know…in-laws)! And then she told us something even more unbelievable: my sister had made it. Now, understand that to me my 13 year old sister was the epitome of cool. In my memory, she stands about seven feet tall and sort of glows with a tangible sense of style and teenage ennui. She was, to me, perfect. And now, on top of everything else, she could cook. To give you perspective, I wasn’t even allowed to pour my own cereal.
She walked (nay, sauntered!) over to the fridge and pulled out individual dessert cups filled with chocolate Jell-O pudding. It seemed so elegant! So impressive! So…cool! I was amazed. And, frankly, just thrilled to be getting dessert, which had been a hard-won battle with my mother over a
n unfairly large spoonful of peas. I’m convinced that my mother missed her true calling as a chief negotiator. Nothing had ever tasted so sweet or so sophisticated as that pudding did.
When I think about that particular memory, there are so many others that come tumbling after it: orange-pineapple Jell-O salad served at Easter dinner, making Jell-O jigglers in fun shapes with the kids that I babysat in the summers, the incomparable joy of discovering a Jell-O cup in the lunch that my mom packed for school…it goes on and on. When I started to think about it, I started to realize what a huge part Jell-O has played in the background of my life’s memorable moments.
And it’s not just me! As I was talking with people about this little experiment that I was about to undertake (stay with me! It’s coming!), I discovered that everyone I spoke with had a story about Jell-O. It usually started with, “I remember this thing my grandma used to make…,” or “At Christmas we always had to have…,” or “That reminds of this time that we…” And when they shared these stories and memories with me they always, always smiled. Because that’s what Jell-O seems to do – it brings people together and plays a little, magical part in making a memory or a tradition. It gives families a common link with each other and with the past. But most of all, it makes people smile.
It seems to be that that’s always been the case, too! If you look through old timey cookbooks, they’re chock full of Jell-O recipes (though some are of dubious taste quality, I grant you). I decided that the meals that I make for myself and the Mister needed a little more vintage pinache, so naturally I turned to Jell-O, just like homemakers of yore.
Without further ado, I give you: Tropic Sunrise Salad!
- 1 14oz can sliced pineapple rings
- 2 packages strawberry or raspberry-flavored Jell-O gelatin
- 3 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 C miniature marshmallows
- 1/4 C chopped nuts
- Salad greens
- Remove pineapple from syrup; chill. Save can.
- Add enough water to pineapple syrup to make 2.5 cups; heat to boiling. Add gelatin; dissolve. Stir in lemon juice; chill till syrupy.
- Fold in marshmallows and nuts; spoon into pineapple can and chill till firm (at least 4 hours).
- At serving time, unmold gelatin, sliding mold out on its side. Cut into 6 to 8 slices with sharp knife dipped in hot water. Arrange on salad greens; top with pineapple; serve with your favorite dressing.
The recipe above is transcribed exactly as it appeared in the clipping from Better Homes and Gardens and, while it says that it’s supposed to serve 6 to 8, I found it
impossible difficult to remove the mold from the can once it set, so I actually only got three servings out of this. The other slices were neither elegant nor appetizing in appearance. I think that the main reason for this is that today’s pineapple rings come in cans that have a slight lip on the inside of the can which weren’t there when recipe was written (in the early 60s) and that prevents the mold from easily sliding out of the can. So if you could use a glass or a different kind of can, I would recommend that. The only real benefit of using the actual can from the pineapple rings that you’re using is that the rings that you garnish the salad with will be almost the exact same size as your salad slices. I should also note that I did not serve this with my favorite dressing because all we had was Ranch dressing and…yuck.
Success! Frankly, I don’t think that there’s enough food served on lettuce leaves these days. I think I’ll be throwing that into regular rotation. It definitely adds an air of festivity to an otherwise humdrum day!
And isn’t that the point? Isn’t that what we all love about Jell-O? The bright colors, the sweet taste, the endless ways that you can change it up with mix-ins and toppings and flavor combinations, the way that it makes a table seem just a little bit more special…because…it’s Jell-O. You just can’t think about it without smiling and there’s always room for a smile.