KEARNEYSVILLE – Instead of picking up those processed Jell-O cups at the store, why not head to the kitchen for a fun time with your children or grandchildren and make a gelatin dessert the old-fashioned way?
Cool and fruity, these desserts bring a splash of color to the picnic table or dining room spread. Jell-O now makes so many flavors and comes in all the colors of the rainbow, as my granddaughters used to say.
Word of warning: when children are involved, make sure you watch out when handling the boiling water it takes to dissolve the gelatin. The adult should handle that part and then once the water and powder are mixed, let the children pour the colorful liquid into the mold or baking dish. Once the gelatin has cooled and thickened, your young helpers can cut the dessert into squares and add whipped cream or other toppings. Yummy!
If you don’t want to go with a packaged Jell-O, here’s an easy, fun recipe. You’ll need 1½ tablespoons of unflavored gelatin, 1 cup of boiling water, 1 cup of cold water and 1¼ cup of a juice of your choice (cranberry is great because of the brilliant color).
Your pint-size helpers can step in to place cold water into a bowl and mix in the gelatin. Set aside and ask your help to take a wooden spoon to gently mix the two together and then add the juice. (If your juice of choice is a little sour, add a pinch of sugar and stir.)
Next, you’ll pour in one cup hot water into the juice mixture and then let the kids pour the concoction into a mold. Refrigerate until the gelatin is firm, which sometimes happens in just 30 minutes or so.
Jell-O also comes in handy for non-gelatin recipes. My mother used to make a quick dessert she called “Easy Jell-O Poke Cake.” This recipe can be made with any flavor of cake and any flavor of gelatin. The strawberry and orange varieties of Jell-O both taste great with a white or yellow cake spread with a vanilla topping. You can be creative with this!
Prepare and bake the cake as normal in a 13×9 glass baking pan and allow it to cool. Mother used to let me use a fork to poke holes in the cake about half-inch apart. Take mixture and carefully pour the liquid Jell-O mixture over the cake, making sure to fill all the holes and cover before placing in the refrigerator.
Chill until Jell-O is firm and then, if you’d like, get out extras such as whipped cream, pudding, fresh fruit, whatever foods spread to mind and decorate your cake. Use your imagination. To create a Fourth of July flag cake for instance, place fresh blueberries for stars and strawberries to form stripes.
Sharing another hint with you: When I make any Jell-O recipe for picnics and potlucks, I use my Pyrex portable to keep it cold until serving.
Not sweet on desserts? Jell-O makes a great side dish, too. It can be used as the base for numerous recipes using vegetables.
For a summer vegetable salad, start with a 6-ounce package of lemon Jell-O. You’ll also need 2 cups boiling water;1 1/4 cup cold water; 2 tablespoons lemon juice; 1 medium zucchini or summer squash, shredded; 1 cup carrot, shredded; 1 cup sliced cucumber; ½ cup sliced radishes; 2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion; 2/4 cup chopped olives and pepper to taste. Dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Add cold water and lemon juice. Chill until thickened. Fold in rest of ingredients. Pour into mold or serving bowl. Chill overnight.
Next, a recipe using fruit that’s easy to make. For a gelatin fruit salad, you’ll need 1 cup applesauce; two 3-ounce packages of Jell-O (cherry is good or whatever flavor you’d like); 1 12-ounce can of lemon-lime soda; and 1 8-ounce can of crushed pineapple (un-drained). In a saucepan, bring applesauce to a boil. Remove from heat; stir in gelatin until dissolved. Slowly add soda and pineapple. Put into 1½ quart serving bowl. Refrigerate until firm, the dish out in smaller dishes and garnish with whipped cream. If you’re looking to save calories, substitute with sugar-free Jell-O, diet soda and light Cool-Whip.
One last tip: If you’re using a Jell-O mold, how do you get your lovely creation out in one piece? You must test molded gelatin by poking it slightly with the finger or the blunt end of a wooden spoon to make sure the gelatin is firm. Continue chilling the gelatin if still runny or wobbly and wait until it is firmly set before proceeding.
Dip a small knife with a point, such as a paring knife, into warm water. Run the knife along the inside of the rim of the mold, separating the Jell-O from the sides of the pan. Repeat process on the interior rim if using a bundt pan.
Now dip the bottom of the mold into a pan of warm water. Take care not to submerge the mold beyond the rim. Hold for a few seconds and remove from water. If the Jell-O does not come out, repeat the dip in warm water. You then flip the mold so that your gelatin comes out onto a chilled serving platter. For extra color, place a lettuce leaf on your plate and garnish as you would like with fresh fruit or whipped cream.
Patt Welsh appreciates feedback on her column and would love to hear readers’ ideas on future columns. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.