Wow, this has really been a year of confronting, and overcoming, my culinary fears! Who knew I had so many? So far this year I have created soufflés, tackled British food, baked several successful cakes, and combined peanuts with chicken. You’d think at this point I could rest on my laurels and smile over a job well done. But no sirree… not when I saw that this month’s Retro Recipe Challenge was Retro Wobbles, a phrase that instantly brings to mind one of my personal culinary boogeymen, the gelatin salad!
I never knew that gelatin salads were real, or loved, by anyone. I had grown up seeing them in my mother’s cookbooks, but always viewed them as ‘food art’ more than actual meals to be consumed. It wasn’t until I was at Smith that I met a student who suggested making a chicken and lime jello salad for a fundraising brunch that I realized that these things were actually part of some people’s daily palates! (By the way that student called us all ignorant after she saw the looks of horror that instantly registered on our faces after the words left her mouth )
After that brief exchange the back of mind would occasionally get twinges of curiousity. What if it -did- taste good like she had suggested? What if I -was- being closeminded. I’m a texture freak and the idea of smooth gelatinous jello combined with hard objects of any sort (least alone savory ones like vegetables) just sounded like something that could be viewed as a violation of the Geneva Convention. When I shared my cautious curiousity with my mother she quickly shot me down. Like me, she had never known that the gelatin salads in her cookbooks were actually to be consumed, and she saw no reason to change that belief at this point in her life. Were we just being close-minded?
According to the copy of The Good Home Cookbook: More Than 1000 Classic American Recipes
, which I received earlier this year, we were.
From The Good Home Cookbook: More Than 1000 Classic American Recipes:
Gelatin salads have been popular in the Midwest ever since they were introduced in the late nineteenth century. They have almost disappeated from tables on the East and West coasts.
Really? I immediately contacted one of my best ‘online’ friends, a woman from Indiana. I needed to hear a review from someone I knew and trusted. I shared with her my fear and skepticism of gelatin salads and asked her if she was indeed familiar with them. She immediately brightened up and related to me that they were indeed still quite popular in the Midwest, and also quite good. She usually makes quite a few herself, especially in the summer months. Hmmm… the fear was still too great. I hate wasting money and/or ingredients, and I rarely make recipes if the odds are greater than 50% that no one in my house will eat them, including myself! I told myself that if presented the opportunity at someone else’s house or a get-together, I would take it, but I wouldn’t go through the trouble of making one myself.
That is, until this challenge rolled around. It was gonna be now or never.
Armed with several of my mom’s retro cookbooks I flipped through their gelatinous offerings. Most of them were savoury, a path I was still not willing to take. If I was going to dip my toe into these waters it was gonna be as a dessert first. Betty Crocker wasn’t much help, so it was on to Better Homes and Gardens. This particular copy seems to be from 1969-1972 (there is no copyright date but it was on the same shelf as other books from that period).
Who in their right mind could refuse such garish technicolor spreads? Especially this one especially designed for ‘your husband’s company dinner’
One particular image brought back all my old fears and threatened to send me running back to the hills…
I quickly turned the page, took a deep breath, and vowed to soldier on…
That’s when I saw a small recipe for a ‘Spiced Orange Mold’ … It called for fruity jello, cinnamon, and mandarin oranges… all ingredients that I love… this seemed like a safe and easy way to go…
I quickly got to work putting everything together, replacing the orange gelatin with sugar-free mixed fruit packs. I smiled at the smells of the mulling orange syrup, I wowed in amazement as I stirred the mandarin orange sections into the partially set conglomeration. And then I waited….
As I prepared to unmold my ‘masterpiece’, I may have been a little too cautious. The directions stated to dip the mold into hot water up to the rim. I think I left it in the water for a second or two too long as some of the jello escaped as liquid when I flipped it onto the plate Still, other than that everything seemed to be AOK. I cut a wedge out and picked up my spoon. This was the final test. I took a bite. And then another. It was surprisingly good! The mulling gave the jello a warmth and complexity that you can’t get straight out of the box. And the orange sections? That was probably the most surprising part. Their inclusion was not anywhere as jarring as I expected, providing unexpected citrusy bursts of flavour and liquid instead. The overall impression was that this was a refreshingly light and cooling fruit salad, that could be easily glammed up with a dollop of whipped cream or a chunky tropical fruit sauce. YUM! I will definitely make this one again, and am also eyeing some of the other dessert jellos that I overlooked earlier. Give me enough time, and I may even get around to the olive studded montrosity I shuddered at above
Spiced Orange Mold
Recipe from: Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (c. 1970)
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 11-oz can mandarin orange sections
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 inches stick cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
2 3-oz packages orange flavoured gelatin (hmm I used 2 .3 oz packages of Jello and had no problems. Maybe jello is more concentrated now?)
2 cups cold water
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup broken California walnuts (I omitted these)
1. Drain oranges
2. Reserve syrup; add water to make 1 3/4 cups
3. In saucepan, mix syrup, salt, spices
4. Cover; simmer 10 minutes
5. Remove from heat, let stand covered 10 minutes
7. Dissolve gelatin in the hot mixture.
8. Add cold water, lemon juice.
9. Chill till partially set.
10. Stir in oranges and nuts.
11. Chill firm in 1-quart mold