I like to cook.
Cooking, however, is another one of those things that I want to be really, really good at (like drawing, chess and social graces) but that I am really, really not. This doesn’t stop me from trying. Unlike social graces – I’ve given up on those. Although someday I simply must share my recipes for quick and easy college cooking on a budget. (Notice tasty doesn’t appear anywhere in that description.)
I have a fondness for vintage recipes, especially those old brand-name recipes, where a company would take some innocent, run-of-the-mill recipe and shoehorn their product into it, giving us delicacies like Velveeta Cheese Fudge (Yes, this is real. No, I have not made it.)
I also have an even greater fondness for gelatin recipes … because for every recipe for ketchup cookies (again, real; and again, no, not yet) there seems to be twice as many gelatin recipes that usually fall under the healthy-sounding category of “salad” that embalm and entomb any number of appealing and unappealing ingredients into their jiggly embrace. Like veal, or macaroni & cheese. Or veal AND macaroni & cheese. And probably ketchup cookies.
These salad recipes began to gain popularity in the ’30s before peaking in the ’50s, and plates were graced with such delicacies as Jellied Dinner Loaf, made with gelatin, mixed vegetables, and “finely-diced, cooked left-over meat.” This may have possibly been served beside “Crisp Vegetable Salad” (in essence, a tossed salad set into gelatin) with some sort of fruit and carrot strips mixed into orange gelatin for dessert. All of which were garnished with pimento strips! Heck, warm, liquid gelatin could even be served as a beverage … good for the nails, you know.
There was even celery flavored Jell-O, meant to be cubed and tossed with a salad, kind of like a gelatin mold turned inside out. Sadly, after those fabulous ’50s, the popularity of gelatin salads and pimento strips began to fade and never regained such glorious heights again. Except with crazy Aunt Edna (every family has one) who brings some sort of gelatin concoction to each family reunion that everyone politely tries and then surreptitiously feeds to the dogs, or babies.
And with me. Not only do I love these recipes, but I also collect gelatin molds as well. Unfortunately, I don’t have a family reunion I can easily attend on a yearly basis to present pimento-draped canine-repelling masterpieces to a captive audience.
But I do have coworkers, and the occasional holiday potluck lunch.
Over the years, I’ve created and served to my hapless office mates delights such as Molded Macaroni & Cheese, Creamy Cucumber Salad Mold, Avocado Tuna Fish Mold, and a sad-looking chocolate sponge. These dishes were dutifully sampled before disappearing when my back was turned. While disappointing, at least one coworker was gracious enough to tell me that some of them were tasty enough, if she ate them with her eyes closed and tried not to chew.
Sadly, it was finally made very clear that for the next carry-in lunch, I was not to bring any gelatinous food item. But when the next opportunity came along, I decided to rebel against the oppressors of my jiggliness and surprise them with a wobbly masterpiece of such grand specifications that these Jell-O haters would be won over and once more my vintage vacillating creations would be welcomed with open arms. Or at least open eyes.
I picked a recipe for a multi-layered, rainbow-striped dessert made from various fruit flavors whipped to froth before setting into a colorful cloud of wiggly delight. The picture was breathtaking. From my collection of molds, I choose a majestic copper number (ironically gifted to me by one of my coworkers) that could easily grace the chest of a Viking-outfitted opera singer.
My Jell-O mold was gonna make the fat lady sing.
For hours I boiled and stirred and refrigerated and whipped and layered and molded cartoon colors and artificial fruit-like flavors in my own personal homage to ’80s movie musical montages. I placed the finished mold in the fridge to set up for the night, fantasizing of the eye-popping, throbbing wonder which I would expose to the surprise and delight of my doubters and detractors the following day.
When lunch came, and everyone else was preparing their additions to our dinner, I proudly pulled forth my copper mold, and dipped the mold briefly into hot water to loosen my shimmying masterpiece. I flipped the mold over onto a plate, my anticipatory quivers soon to be met in kind by this dessert delight.
But the dessert delight stubbornly declined to depart the mold. I dipped the mold into the hot water again. Nothing. A third time; still nothing. Frustrated, I held the mold above the plate and gave it an overly-firm shake.
The gelatin suddenly left the mold and landed with a cow-inspired plopping sound. My grand illusion of fantastical gelatinous spires quickly dissipated, for what I now had looked like the brain of an eight-year-old girl had thrown up: all rainbows, bubbles and glitter. Only a pony was missing, but considering how gelatin is made, I’m sure one was represented there regardless. The whipped gelatin lost its consistency and quickly dissolved into puddles of colored liquid that smelled like cheap air freshener. There wasn’t even a surface solid enough to gracefully drape a strip of pimento across.
And so I had to admit defeat and throw in the towel. Actually, a number of them, because the gelatin continued to melt and make a mess on the office counter. Equally depressing was that, in all honesty, this sad display was actually the first that I didn’t personally find vomit-inducing. I may love to make gelatin recipes, but that doesn’t mean that I actually like them and want to eat things like Lime-Jell-O Mayonnaise Fruit Salad (Real. No. Not gonna happen.) myself.
That’s what coworkers, and a lack of social graces, are good for.