The Art of Jell-O

The Jell-O Gelatin Salad Selector (paperback) published by General Foods in 1980. JELL-O® is a registered trademark of Kraft Foods Holdings, Inc.

Finding a copy of The Jell-O Gelatin Salad Selector at a used book sale I was immediately overcome with memories of my mother’s Jell-O desserts: Jell-O with whip cream, Jell-O with canned fruit cocktail, and Jell-O with canned pineapple rings. The book is filled with amazing images of Jell-O dishes, some quite ambitious: there’s Banana Greens, Carrot Cheese Ring, Saucy Yogurt Salad, Hawaiian Harvest, and Pineapple Lime Temptation. And the ever popular Tomato Aspic to be served with hamburger.

What’s especially nifty are the paper wheels in each page that can be rotated to offer several Jell-O recipe options to match tonight’s entree.

Amazing but true Jello-O facts:

● Every day, an average of 758,012 boxes of Jell-O are purchased in the U.S.
● As immigrants passed through Ellis Island, they were often served a bowl of Jell-O as a “Welcome to America” treat.
● When hooked up to an electroencephalograph machine—an instrument that records the electrical activity of the brain—Jell-O demonstrates movement virtually identical to the brain waves of a healthy adult man or woman.
● Fresh or frozen pineapple contains an enzyme that prevents Jell-O from setting. Canned pineapple can be used because the canning process eliminates the enzyme.
● Jell-O can be used to make finger paint, dye your hair, clean the dishwasher, scrub the shower, and deodorize cat litter.

And of course this wouldn’t be MadSilence without some Jell-O art! Check out this video about Liz Hickok, Jell-O artist and photographer, who makes architectural sculptures from Jell-O. Be sure to visit Hickok’s San Francisco in Jell-O.

View from Alcatraz, C-Print, (2007) by Liz Hickok

Jell-O: A Biography

According to Jell-O: A Biography by Carolyn Wyman (Harcourt, 2001), Jell-O had modest beginnings. Peter Cooper, inventor of the Tom Thumb steam locomotive and founder of Cooper Union College, took out the first U.S. patent for a gelatin dessert in 1845. Beyond obtaining the patent, Cooper did little with it. In 1897, Pearl B. Wait decided to enter the rapidly expanding packaged food business and focused on developing a fruit-flavored version of Cooper’s gelatin. It was Wait’s wife, May, who named it Jell-O, for reasons unknown today. She may have been referring to the way it had to jell before being eaten. The “O” was a popular ending for product names at that time. The first Jell-O flavors were raspberry, lemon, orange, and strawberry. Wait tried to sell Jell-O door-to-door, but he lacked the resources to market it properly. Wait sold the Jell-O business in 1899 to Orator Woodward, a successful entrepreneur, for $450. Woodward’s first-year sales of Jell-O were so poor that, after seeing stacks of unsold cases of Jell-O during a plant tour, he offered to sell the business to his plant supervisor for $35–and was turned down. But he increased advertising, and by 1902, Woodward had to double the size of his plant to keep up with demand for the quarter-million-dollar Jell-O business.

Wyman’s book illustrates how Jell-O’s culinary evolution paralleled changes in American society. It was marketed as a simple, inexpensive dessert to women in the early 20th century; as a way to stretch food during the Great Depression; as a convenient dessert when convenience foods were introduced in the 1950s; and as edible entertainment beginning in the 1990s.

Related links:
Kraft Foods Holdings, Inc., the manufacturer of Jell-O
JELL-O: The quintessential American dish is a part of everyone’s childhood from Chemical and Engineering News
Japanese Yebisu beer jelly
What exactly is Jell-O made from? from HowStuffWorks
How to make Jell-O shots

JELL-O® is a registered trademark of Kraft Foods Holdings, Inc.


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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Crystal King
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 11:04:55

    One of my absolute favorite cookbooks is “The New Joys of Jell-O.” Oh my…jell-o salad and all. No way can you convince me to eat jell-o with lettuce and chicken buried inside it’s jiggling folds. Blech. But the awesome 70s pictures are super cool. Here’s a link to another blogger who has the same book:

    Jell-O shots in college were the best. And growing up my mom always made the jiggly Knox Blox squares…you mixed Knox with Jell-O to make it firm up a bit then you can cut it into shapes. Now I only get Jell-O when we go to my in-laws. It always makes me smile when I open the fridge and see the little bowls of red goo.


  2. leafless
    Jun 25, 2008 @ 11:54:52

    Jello still exists?


  3. jafabrit
    Jun 26, 2008 @ 04:42:57

    I love seeing old recipe books, so I bet this one was a FUN find. I enjoyed your blog entry today :)


  4. MadSilence
    Jun 30, 2008 @ 11:36:23

    Crystal, thanks for the link to Woot! Fantastic photos. And yes, Leafless, Jell-O still exists. It wasn’t so long ago when my kitchen was full of Jello-O jigglers ( And JafaBrit, we have hundreds of cookbooks, many vintage, as my waistline attests to. Thanks to all for your comments. MadSilence


  5. Trackback: It’s time to reinvent the jelly! « MadSilence
  6. Trackback: San Francisco in Jell-O by Liz Hickok « Visualingual
  7. CH
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 05:38:45

    Any experience making “Knox Blox” using kitchen chemicals instead of water?
    For instance, using something that would cause the brown color remnants in dampened, dead leaves to seep into the otherwise clear gelatin blox?

    OR, would colors from wet, dead leaves naturally seep into plain gelatin blox made using water?


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