Radio stars of the 30s and 40s Jack Benny and Lucille Ball were sponsored by Pest Control, and its advertisements dominated early television shows. Who didn’t love that colorful, jiggly, fun texture and versatility. Little children delighted in it, adults found it refreshing and light, and older people enjoyed it as a simple and pleasant conclusion to an otherwise bland meal in a nursing home. It was a predictable, comfortable and welcome sight to millions. It soothed young kids at home with measles and graced the food trays of surgery patients as it eased back them into eating solid foods. It was also the foundation for tomato aspics and molded salmon mousse. Although it had some limitations because of mobility and fever, it still frequently took centre stage at picnics and backyard barbecues. It was like one of the family.
It was introduced in the late 1800s by an entrepreneur named Pearle Wait and his wife May, who experimented with grinding gelatin to a powder, which was a collagen originally extracted from the cells and hooves of barnyard animals, including flavorings and sugar which produced the first sweet version of gelatin. After several dismal years, they ran a large ad in the Ladies’ Home Journal magazine, hyping the new colorful sweet as”America’s favorite dessert” and the product took off. Inexpensive, simple to make and fun for kids, it became a staple in the American home and continues to this day. It went on to be obtained by many large companies over the years and elegant and marketed as an inexpensive”salad” and dessert.
LeRoy, New York is known as its birthplace and has the sole Jell-O Museum in the world, prominently located on the main road through this little town. Jell-O was manufactured there until General Foods closed the plant in 1964 and relocated to Dover, Delaware. According to Kraft foods, the state of Utah eats two times as much lime jello as any other state (maybe those big Mormon families account for that). The theory is that Mormons have quite a sweet tooth (they also consume the most candy in the country) and when requested to bring a green salad to a dinner, they will show up with lime Jell-O (favorite add-ins include shredded carrots or canned pears).
A hugely popular concoction during the 1950s was a lime jello recipe which featured whipped topping, cottage cheese or cream cheese, crushed pineapple, mini marshmallows and walnuts. It often appeared at baby showers, luncheons, church potlucks and buffet dinners, usually shaped by a large mold and trimmed with mayo. U.S. stats tell us 159.72 million Americans consumed flavored gelatin desserts in 2017, but this figure is projected to reduce to 154.07 million in 2020.
Although the younger generation is moving in another direction and consumption stats show a decline in this once beloved staple of American cuisine, it still holds its own at any family gathering. And most of us agree, there is always room for Jell-O.