The menu for Thanksgiving dinner at my sister’s house this year almost duplicated my mother’s menu in mid-20th century. We had green beans cooked with bacon, corn, mashed potatoes, turkey, dressing, and—the star of the show—noodles. For desert we had pumpkin pie and chocolate cake.
Two big changes: My mother served chicken rather than turkey, which my family didn’t much care for, and at least one JELL-O salad.
JELL-O has been around for well over a century, but my family didn’t see it on our table until about 1949, after the electric line finally came to our house. You needed a refrigerator to make the JELL-O salads that had become popular among our city cousins in the 1930s.
Magazines contained lots of ideas for innovative ways to dine and decorate with JELL-O. My mother was one of the many who experimented with colorful dishes. One of the worst was chopped cabbage in lime JELL-O. Even squares of quivering lime with a half pear embedded in each piece was better than that. She tried a variety of fruits, vegetables, and nuts and combinations thereof in the major flavors: raspberry, orange, strawberry, lemon.
Many salads made only one appearance on the family table, but two recipes survive. One is a carrot and pineapple salad (orange JELL-O, a cup of crushed pineapple, a cup of grated carrots). The other is a fruit salad (cherry JELL-O, a can of fruit cocktail, one banana sliced into 30 or so pieces). You can add marshmallows and whipping cream to the latter.
I see a lot of people wrinkle their noses at the thought of eating JELL-O alone or with anything. The salad days of JELL-O apparently have passed.