Can anyone serve a Jell-O mold without becoming a laughingstock?
This question congealed in my mind after a recent meeting of the Common Readers Book Club at my home, where I prepared, as a neon accompaniment to a truly lavish meal, a simple Jell-O mold.
Let me explain first that the Common Readers Book Club is so named because our founding member, early on, forwarded an excellent quotation about the common reader's aim: simply to enjoy a book. We all identified with the quotation and derived our club name from it; but now, of course, not one of us can remember who said it. Come to think of it, none of us can remember the names of the main characters in the first two books we have read. We also don't have a clue who borrowed our coolers, the date of the last full day for Howard County schools and where the spare house key is.
But everyone in the group seems to recall my Jell-O mold.
We met to discuss the book The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir by Bill Bryson, which chronicles Bryson's growing-up years in the 1950s, so I planned the menu accordingly. Meatloaf and gravy, mashed potatoes and the piece de resistance, which is French for "future object of derision": Aunt Honey's Lime Jell-O Salad. It was one of my favorites growing up because it had the top-secret substitution of 7-Up for the water, which gave it that very unexpected, palatable zip.
"Very refreshing!" my family members would exclaim after eating a spoonful. It was a safe thing to say. "Very green!" would have been just as accurate, but somehow doesn't come off as a compliment. It's lime-green, obviously, but it also contains pineapple and cream cheese and pecans. Like the recipes for most Jell-O molds, you really wouldn't imagine putting these things together. But you can eat and enjoy them in the culinary cornucopia of the Jell-O mold.
For example, in the book Jell-O, Fun and Fabulous Recipes, which was recently purchased for me at a yard sale by the founder of the Common Readers Book Club, there is a recipe for "molded cheese" that calls for orange Jell-O and sharp cheddar cheese, horseradish, scallions and parsley. Even in the event of a nuclear winter, I'm not sure I would have the je ne sais quoi, which is a term coined by French chef Julia Child meaning "chutzpah," to look into the pantry and put those items together.
But somehow, my Aunt Honey did have the je ne sais quoi, which may also be translated to mean a fifth of bourbon, to combine pineapple, cream cheese, 7-Up and pecans together with lime Jell-O. She did a truly spectacular job, as evidenced by the fact that she put her name on the recipe in the family tradition of slightly altering something you found in a book.
I know this now because right there, on page 176 of Jell-O Fun and Fabulous Recipes, is a recipe for pineapple cream cheese loaf. Why, this recipe is nearly a twin for Aunt Honey's Lime Jell-O Salad.
Well, who could blame Aunt Honey? She did make some noticeable improvements. And I remember her as being sweeter, and far less nutty, than the final product. Try her recipe yourself - you can view it on www.janetgilbertonline.com.
My Common Readers Book Club meets tonight to discuss our third book, Water for Elephants. In this book, the protagonist, which is German for "gelatin-eater," juxtaposes his life in a nursing home with his former one as a circus veterinarian. Or, wait, it might be about a circus performed entirely by nursing home residents - I can't remember; I finished it more than two weeks ago.
The hostess has informed us that she will not be serving circus or nursing home food.
But I know what I'm bringing - Jell-O glazed popcorn, page 106.