To be accurate, Jell-O is a brand name for the sugar and food dyed gelatin in a box. Jell-O was offered when I was sick and accompanied tea with honey. Consequently, the food association was not positive. Even sugar-free, zero calories, free food Jell-O is avoided when on a strict diet.
It was another I-Night with our cooking pals. Matt and I were hosting a retro 50s dinner. First edition Betty Crocker cookbooks were checked out from the library. The men came dressed in their suit and ties looking like Robert Young in Father Knows Best. The ladies brought waist tied frilly aprons. My parents were invited to join us. They enjoyed our friends and culinary adventures.
The 50s brought atomic age technology into American homes. Housewives’ burdens were made easier with electric refrigerators, washer machines, and vacuum cleaners. Ladies’ magazines were chockfull of housekeeping tips and quick to table recipes to satisfy famished husbands and hungry children. Frozen vegetables, canned soups, and cheese-foods filled the grocery carts.
My mom was a true home cook, preferring the way she had always cooked with fresh vegetables, ripe fruits, and meat custom cut from the butcher. She did occasionally give in to convenient cake mixes.
Our 50s I-Night started with rye and ginger ale highballs. The appetizer was a type of ham salad in a gelatin loaf cut into bite-sized pieces. It shimmered like Jell-O, but the highballs made us brave enough to try it.
I baked a huge meatloaf using 75% lean ground beef and trimmed the top with bacon. The recipe suggested that if the mixture was too dry, to add lard. Boiled potatoes were mashed with whole milk and real butter. I also made enough gravy from the fatty meat drippings to drench the potatoes and meatloaf. I did worry about everyone’s artery health.
The featured vegetable was asparagus in gelatin with lemon zest and sugar—Jell-O. Now I like asparagus and can prepare it in many ways. I have grilled, baked, stir-fried asparagus, and added it to risottos, pastas, and soups. I had never imagined encasing the beautiful green spears in Jell-O. But that was the adventure of I-Night—cooking a recipe you had not cooked. You also had to try everything once.
The asparagus in lemon gelatin was served in a clear Pyrex. It shimmered and shook on the table as my guest sat down. The spears were mushy, and the jelly dance on the fork inspired a small wave of nausea. It tasted as awful as it looked. The only one who thoroughly enjoyed it was my dad who would eat everything put in front of him.
Dessert was—you guessed it—canned mixed fruit trapped in a Bundt form of raspberry Jell-O.
Welcome to my Blogging A-Z April 2018 Challenge. My theme is Food Stories Remembered because there is always a story when food is involved. I consider myself a good home cook with a great appetite for hearty food. I have witnessed the creation of favorite recipes in friends’ kitchens and have learned from the best—my mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law. Recipes may be included. I am remaining uncommitted on this because when I cook, I seldom measure. If you try any of my recipes, you are cooking at your own risk. Grab a glass of wine. Hope you’re hungry!
Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.