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GELATIN

JELL-O

Jell-O has become a cultural icon in the United States. Invented by Pearle Bixby Wait in 1897, (the name Jell- O was coined by his wife, May), this flavored gelatin’s longevity is credited to its convenience for dessert, its popularity, especially with children, and its ability to inspire smiles, jokes, and playfulness. Beginning with strawberry, raspberry, orange, and lemon, Jell-O in the early twenty-first century comes in twenty-three fla- vors, including white sparkling grape, watermelon, and passion fruit. Strawberry is the best seller. Over a mil- lion boxes are sold every day; Salt Lake City, Utah, is the number-one consumer city.

Part of the early success of Jell-O was its strong marketing ap- peal to children. This 1908 Jell-O brochure shows two disap- pointed children who have just been served baked apples instead of the Jell-O they expected. ROUGHWOOD COLLECTION.

Aside from thousands of inventive serving ideas (including one from 1930 for forcing set Jell-O through a potato ricer), Jell-O has spawned collectors (of orig- inal boxes, early advertising, recipe booklets, molds, glasses); Jell-O shots (alcoholic treats made by mixing in liquor); Jell-O wrestling (sometimes in the nude in large vats); the Jell-O Museum in Le Roy, N.Y.; an at- tempt to measure the brain waves of Jell-O; and count- less websites.

source of gelatin in the Middle Ages was hartshorn (antlers of the hart deer).

Today, the substance is manufactured commercially all over the world. In the United States most gelatin is derived from pig skin. Strictly speaking, this is not a kosher practice (although interpretations vary), and it is not permissible under Islamic dietary law. An alternative, isinglass (made from the air bladders of sturgeon), is ac- ceptable to the religious and vegetarians. Another alter- native is agar, made from a variety of red seaweed, commonly used in Japan where it is known as kanten and used in the manufacture of ice cream. Cattle form the ba- sis of gelatin in France and Britain, raising safety con- cerns about transmission of mad cow disease even in the United States where some gelatin is imported from Eu- rope.

Commercially manufactured gelatin is packaged in

1⁄4

-ounce envelopes of desiccated granules; paper-thin sheets, known as leaves (used in jelled Central and East- ern European desserts and aspics); and meltable blocks (Great Britain). In Latin America, gelatin is often mixed with milk or cream instead of water for the popular creamy desserts. In Russia, gelatin encases pigs’ feet and other meats.

Aside from home and restaurant cooking, gelatin has wide application in the food industry where its functional properties are used to gel, thicken, stabilize, emulsify, bind, film, foam and whip prepared foods. Among other items, gelatin is incorporated into marshmallows, cake

104

Medieval Beginnings

Elaborate molded jellies began to grace aristocratic British banquet tables in the fourteenth century. In the Late Medieval period (the 1400s) through the 1500s, cooks made savory and sweet jellied dishes using meat, chopped fine, mixed with cream or almond milk that was flavored with spices, rosewater, or sugar to fashion cre- ations known as cullis, gellys, or brawn. In 1754, the first English patent for the manufacture of gelatin was granted. During the Victorian era, copper, and later alu- minum, molds were introduced, which made possible the presentation of tall, shimmering creations. Unflavored

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FOOD AND CULTURE

Not everyone thinks Jell-O is benign. During the 1950s, when femininity was defined as docility, com- plicated molded constructions with fruits precisely placed according to pattern were popular, raising ques- tions about a foodstuff that controls and keeps things in their place. One researcher claims that the market- ing of Jell-O depicts women as inept homemakers. It is hard not to wonder about the larger social message of “perfection salad,” a prescribed concoction of cabbage, celery, and red peppers in tomato Jell-O, popular at the turn of the twentieth century. Such prescription be- comes a symbol of conformity and stifles creativity.

mixes, frostings, bakery glazes, meringues, ice cream, cof- fee, and powdered milk. 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