Watch it Wiggle

My trainer, Andrew Johnston of Triumph Training, is a smart man.   I don’t like to admit to laziness, but I will admit that when Andrew tells me I should or should not be eating something, I don’t bother to check the research.  This is because if Andrew says it, he has already read the research and understood it.  So call it laziness if you will, but I see listening to Andrew as simply a huge timesaver.

Yesterday, he posted this little gem on his Facebook page:  “Food sensitivities?  Adding gelatin will help heal the gut and often eliminate or improve reactions when the offending food is eaten.”

I immediately thought about my grandmother, who died nearly thirteen years ago after an excruciating bout with pancreatic cancer.  One of her favorite sayings was, “I like (insert food item here), but it doesn’t like me.”  The list of foods that she inserted into that blank space was rather lengthy.  Grandmom had a funky stomach for all the years I knew her.  Jell-O was one food Grandmom loved that unfailingly loved her in return.  It never dawned on me back then that she knew something we didn’t know about J-E-L-L-O.

I always thought her love for that wiggly, jiggly dessert had something to do with growing up during the Great Depression.  For some reason, I’d assumed that it had been invented around that time.  Actually, powdered gelatin was patented in 1845 by a guy named Peter Cooper, who also built the first steam-powered locomotive.  In 1897, a cough syrup manufacturer named Pearle Bixby Wait trademarked a gelatin dessert named Jell-O.  He sold the brand to Orator Woodward, who began advertising it in magazines as “America’s Most Famous Dessert.”  In a stroke of marketing brilliance, Woodward printed Jell-O cookbooks and sent salesmen out with free copies.  By 1930, the congealed salad was in vogue, a trend that would last well into the 1950s.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine ran across an old copy of a Jell-O cookbook.  We laughed at some of the elaborate congealed salads in the book, and I actually gagged at a few.  One had green olives in it.  Another had celery and tomato juice.  Neither of those had vodka, which might have made them okay.

I’ve lived long enough to see some things that were in style when I was a kid coming back.  Apparently, congealed salads and those elaborate Tupperware molds are one of those things.  Southern Living magazine’s March 2014 issue devoted eight pages to those wriggling wonders.  I can’t help but think that once the mainstream media begins touting the health benefits of gelatin, a new Jell-O cookbook and some fancy molds will pop up in the grocery stores.

Before you run out to the Picadilly for some red Jell-O thinking you’re eating healthy, please understand that Andrew would cringe at the idea of ingesting red dye #40.  In fact, he would probably be able to spout off six good reasons you shouldn’t use cherry Jell-O to dye your hair (yes, it’s a thing; my twin nieces have done it).   He’s talking about making your own by cooking bones.  Or if you can’t stomach the thought of that, Great Lakes Gelatin will sell it to you in powdered form.

Grandmom died twelve days after being diagnosed with that mean cancer.  During the awful days and weeks just before her diagnosis, we begged and pleaded with her to eat.  One day, she said that she thought she could eat some red Jell-O.  Someone in my family rushed to the grocery store and bought several packages of cherry-flavored Jell-O cups.

She wouldn’t touch them.  Shaking her head, she said no, not cherry.  She could only eat strawberry.

I went to the Publix by my house looking for strawberry-flavored Jell-O cups.  They didn’t have any, but they did have the powdered stuff in strawberry, so I bought a few boxes and went home to make strawberry Jell-O, thinking she would never know the difference.

My Grandmom, it turns out, was a sort of Jell-O sommelier.  She did know the difference.  She ate the strawberry Jell-O, and I like to think it made her feel better for a few brief moments.

After she died, my grandfather asked my sister and me to come help him clean out his attic.  We went through several of Grandmom’s old cookbooks that day.  They were hilarious.  Next to a recipe she’d tried and liked, she would write:  “Good.”  Just as often, the note next to a recipe would say, “Not good.”  Or, as she was often quoted as saying aloud, “Not fit to eat.”

During the late 1970s, the ladies in our church published a cookbook titled Our Daily Bread to raise funds for a missionary.  Sadly, Grandmom is only one of several contributors who has since passed away.  I have a copy of that cookbook, and I still use it on occasion.  I flipped to the salad section today just to see how many recipes for congealed salad are printed in its pages (there are 21), and I came across Grandmom’s favorite recipe.  Because it would make her giggle, I raise a Jell-O shot (lime with tequila, of course) in her memory as I pass along her recipe, even though Concord grape is a discontinued flavor, and despite the fact that regular grape Jell-O contains both red dye #40 and Blue #1.

The recipe, as submitted by Glennis Adams:

2-3 oz. Concord grape Jell-O

2 cups boiling water

1 large can pineapple, drained

1 can blueberry pie filling

Dissolve Jell-O in boiling water and add pie filling and pineapple.  Let congeal in refrigerator.


8 oz. cream cheese

½ pint sour cream

½ cup sugar

½ cup chopped pecans

1 tsp. vanilla

Mix and put on top of congealed salad.

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