Postwar America in the late 1940s was ripe for "better living through chemistry" and new processed foods. The Jell-O company took advantage of this and developed recipes for the suburban housewife to show off her culinary skills and stretch the family food budget. How else could you explain the abominations known as the Jell-O salad and Jell-O entrees? But Ruth Clark of the site The Mid-Century Menu is willing to try those recipes out, for the sake of understanding history. Collectors Weekly spoke to her about the food, and especially the Jell-O recipes, of the 1950s.
I haven’t really heard a lot of food historians talk about this, but I’ve found that food mixed into Jell-O stays fresher much longer than if you have it by itself.
Collectors Weekly: Whoa, how long are you talking about, like weeks?
Clark: Like days. For example, Perfection Salad is basically coleslaw inside of lemon or lime Jell-O, so it’s got cabbage and carrots and all kinds of stuff. But the cabbage will stay fresh for over a week. If you take a bite of it, it’s still crunchy. My husband, Tom, tries all this. He’s a chemist, so he’ll keep tasting it long, long after I’m done with it. But if you make regular coleslaw and put dressing on it, the cabbage becomes soggy after three days. And after five days, you’re not going to eat it.
We’ve done a lot of different Jell-O stuff and noticed that freshness is basically extended when you encase things in Jell-O. We’ve done cakes covered with gelatin, and the cake would still be moist after a week and a half. We made sandwiches with gelatin, open-faced sandwiches with flavored gelatin poured over the top, which was supposed to be like mayo. I thought it was going to be disastrous. Tom wolfed them down. He’s like, “These are really good and the bread isn’t soggy.” I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” Two days later, they were still edible.
But she talks about a lot more than just Jell-O. Read about pork fat cake, chocolate tomato soup cake, liver and green bean paté, chicken mousse, and more. Link
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