Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Jell-O Kind of Weekend

It was a Jello kind of weekend ....warm weather, family gatherings, and plenty of reasons to feast. Whether you call it Jello or Jell-O, the history of gelatin is quite deep and, dear readers, we'll completely ignore the whole thing about what exactly goes into the stuff.

During the Victoria Era, according to Wikipedia, gelatin was reserved for the well-to-do -- sold in sheets and evidently time-consuming to work with -- and transformed into "Jelly Moulds". The concept of gelatin desserts eventually gained traction with the masses around 1902 when the product was advertised in the Ladies' Home Journal as "America's Most Famous Dessert". By 1930, there appeared a vogue in American cuisine for congealed salads, and the company (General Foods) introduced lime-flavored Jell-O to complement the various add-ins that cooks across the U.S. were combining in these aspics and salads. By the 1950s, these salads would become so popular that Jell-O responded with savory and vegetable flavors such as celery, Italian, mixed vegetable and seasoned tomato. These savory flavors have since been discontinued, thankfully, though I do promise you, loyal readers a savory Jell-O blog post in the future. Stay tuned.

This week's Jell-O salad is from Mrs. Roy Palmer who concocted the following recipe:

Black Bing Cherry Salad -- submitted by Mrs. Roy Palmer

2 pkgs Cherry Jell-O
1 can Richlieu Black Bing Cherries
1/4 lb. Salted Almonds

Dissolve Jell-O in 4 cups warm liquid, using the juice drained from the cherries and water. Cut cherries in half and split the almonds. Add the cherries and nuts as the Jell-O begins to thicken. Serve with lettuce and mayonnaise.

For many years, our family occasions called for Jell-O salads -- culled from a pretty decent repertoire of standard Jell-O recipes. Grandma would usually rotate two or three such recipes, usually containing some cottage cheese or crushed pineapple. At Christmas, Mom would make a red Jell-O with bananas and a marshmallow topping -- in a Christmas Tree shape. Though I've noticed Jell-O falling out of favor as an actual side dish or even as "food", it still retains a certain novelty especially among kids.

Since it's been awhile since Jell-O has made an appearance at a family gathering, a trip to Columbus, Indiana for two Nebergall celebrations made Jell-O seem very appropriate. We were eight for a simple lunch celebrating three birthdays and Mother's Day just before we were off for a baby shower (yea!) for a Nebergall-on-the-way.

For lunch we had a simple chicken salad croissants and I offered up the Jell-O as a side dish. I whipped it up the night before, as Jell-O takes some advance planning. I proceeded with the recipe as directed but I did not have Richelieu Cherries on hand but instead, Oregon cherries. After all, a true Mid-century Modern woman would have used what was available. I figured we'd get along fine.  I also did not have 1/4 pound of almonds in the pantry but enough to chop and make around 1/3 cup. I did question Mrs. Palmer on that one....that's a lot of crunch.

At lunch we dutifully scooped the quivering red salad onto the plates and tasted. "Cherrylicious" (thanks, Jim) was NOT how anyone described the taste. The nut crunch was odd, the cherries weren't sweet nor was the Jell-O itself. It was definitely lacking in the flavor department. A marshmallow topping might have saved it, but we didn't stick around to try. (Note: Richelieu still makes their black sweet cherries -- in a heavy syrup -- but I still don't know if that would have saved this one).

As for kids being fans of Jell-O...Max didn't like this one at all and Trey didn't taste it -- not that I blame him -- but overall Max is zero for two with the Jell-O salads. He wouldn't taste the Ginger Ale Salad (see previous post) and that was clearly better than this Cherry Salad. Jigglers or just plain Jell-O would have gone over better with the kids. On the same coin,  Jell-O shots would have been a nice distraction from this salad. With that being said:

This week's Soup Can ScoreOne can out of Five

Recipe needed a serious overhaul to be good. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Something fun this week....cookies! I promised my friend Bonny a blog recipe for her daughter Gretchen's birthday party/adult after-party -- but I also forewarned her that I couldn't promise it to taste good. With the trends of the 1950s at play, no presumptions of greatness could be allowed.

Grandma's notebook has multitudes of dessert options including dozens (pun intended) of cookie recipes. This week's selection is simple titled "Cookies". Really. It's Cookies. This is the first of many recipes found safely tucked away in the middle section of the notebook that are in Grandma's handwriting -- undoubtedly culled from friends and neighbors, neatly copied with a fountain pen. The tell-tale ink smudges tell it all. Cookies is a recipe from someone referred to as "Mary's Mother". Well, Mary -- your mom is a GREAT baker because this recipe was fantastic! The soup can rating system is flying!

Cookies - submitted by Mary's Mother. 

1 cup of butter or lard
1 cup of white sugar
1 cup of brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups cornflakes
1 cup oatmeal
2 cups flour
1 t soda
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 cup coconut OR 1/2 c coconut and 1/2 c nuts

Mold into balls and place (on) pan and flatten with fork. Bake in moderate oven. Makes about 4 dozen.

Again, that tacit cooking knowledge came into play. I did the classic -- butter (I've not ventured into lard territory, but several friends/tasters have had encouraging things to say on the subject), then the sugars -- beat until pale. I added the eggs, and then the combined dry ingredients -- flour, salt, soda, baking powder, oatmeal (rolled oats, not instant). I held the cornflakes and coconut so that I could fold them in by hand. I also added a personal touch -- 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips. They did exist in the 50s so I was comfortable with the addition. I preheated the oven for 350 and I rolled up three cookies into walnut-sized balls but the dough was sticky so I grabbed the Pampered Chef cookie scoop. Nice. No stickies. I scooped out 12 and put in the oven for 8 min. Nope not long enough. Two minutes more. And two more. But 12 was too long -- the smallest cookies were definitely too brown. I then wondered if I should chill the dough before moving on. the chill ended up being 10 minutes but that was just enough to make a soft, golden brown cookie with the revised 10 minute baking time.

Tasting time! Warm was great -- soft, chewy and caramelized....the fully cool cookies had that distinct cornflake crunch. The cookies were also a hit at the party -- they vanished from the cookie tin quickly and tasters said the butterscotch-like flavor was a winner.

FYI -- a quick Google search reveals similar recipes all over -- some called Cowboy Cookies, others called Cornflake Cookies. These particular recipes called for slightly different ingredients such as vanilla or almond extract, raisins, butterscotch chips, etc. One website had an identical recipe for Cornflake Cookie and dated it as a 60s Baby Boomer Cookie. Regardless of the era, it's a keeper.

Soup Can Score: FIVE  cans out of Five!