Thursday, September 4, 2014

There's Always Room For Jell-O (or the great green grape frappe flop)

The Great Green Grape Frappe Flop

As most of you know, I’ve been participating in the Historical Food Fortnightly Challenges and this one is #7 “the best thing since sliced bread.”  
The mission was to ‘Create a food item that reflects historical food improvements. Showcase a new discovery in food preparation, a different way of using food, or a different way of serving it. Make sure to include your documentation!’

It was a toss-up for me between one of the original breakfast cereals by my sorta-relatives or Jell-O.  I wanted something local, something simple (ha) and something to do with prepackaged foods and marketing, at least loosely.  Anyway, Jell-O won because I don't think there is another food on the face of this planet with more "different ways of serving it."

It all started in LeRoy NY, just a hop skip & jump over the river, but way back in 1900.  The story really begins in 1845 when Peter Cooper invented the stuff, then sold it to
Pearle Wait whose wife May named it Jell-O, who then sold it to Orator Frank Woodward who then (1900 by now) sold it to Sam Nico (for $35 with some swear words) who popularized the product with a really good marketing campaign starting in 1904.  He published recipe booklets, had popular artists paint pictures featuring Jell-O and took out ads in popular magazines across the country.  You can read more about the history of Jell-O here:
You can also pick up original Jell-O recipe packets at almost any antique shop in Livingston County, or at least the ones on Main St. in Mt. Morris. 
You can also visit the Jell-O Museum in LeRoy NY

As to this recipe, it comes from a 1905 booklet.  It is the first recipe listed, and I had a heck of a time with it.  I dumped the first batch down the sink (there went the Lemon). I made the second with lime jell-o, which wasn’t invented until much later (hey, it's what I had left).  The second attempt was slightly more successful, but still a funny, watery, unstable mess.   I have video of the whole thing collapsing into a weird green, quivering heap.

The directions read:
Grape Frappe
Number 1
Dissolve one package of Lemon Jell-O in one-half pint boiling water (that’s 1 cup).  Add one-half pint grape juice and stir thoroughly.  Set away to cool, stirring occasionally.  Beat the whites of three eggs to a stiff froth and when Jell-O mixture begins to thicken, add gradually to the beaten whites, beating with a Dover egg beater all the time.  When it is light and stiff enough to keep its shape, pile in a mold and serve with whipped cream.

So, here’s how it went:
Dissolve one package of Lemon (lime) Jell-O in 1 c. boiling water.  Check. 

(do this for 2 minutes, not 30 seconds or all your ‘jell’ will remain on the bottom of the bowl) Add one-half pint grape juice and stir thoroughly.  Check  
It must jiggle or its not ready.
Set away to cool, stirring occasionally.  Yeah.  They mean for like an hour.  Stir every 15 minutes with a whisk.  If it’s NOT starting to jell it won’t incorporate into your meringue and you’ll have a horrible watery nasty mess.  Ask me how I know that.

Beat it!
Beat the whites of 3 eggs to a stiff froth and when jell-o mixture begins to thicken… AFTER the jell-o has gone all slurpy jiggly, then go ahead & beat your egg whites.  This takes a while, let’s say 15 minutes.  Note: Chill the egg beating bowl in the freezer when you set the jello away so the bowl is cool, and what the heck, put the jello mold in there too.  Note: use a BIG bowl to mix this in, the medium size mixing bowl was not quite large enough once that froth got going.  You’ll need a mold that holds 4 cups, or 2 smaller molds.

A tiny bit at a time...
add gradually to the beaten whites… they mean that.

Now do this FOREVER
beating with a Dover egg beater all the time.   I have one!  I used it!  It works!  (OK, it's a different brand, but it's still the same tool)  It adds more fluffy air than a whisk and helps to incorporate the jelled jello into the meringue better than the whisk, though I used both.   It’s far less splattering than a modern mixer, so in this case stick with the hand tools.

More like poured after pure exhaustion.
When it is light and stiff enough to keep its shape, pile in a mold.  Yeah.  Right.  I beat this sucker for 40 minutes and called it good when it was still runny and about to overflow the bowl (here’s a vote for electric).  I probably should have kept going, but it was late, I was tired & I just wanted it done.  Spoon the first bits into the mold, then pour the rest gently.  There should not be any liquid, it should all be incorporated.  If there is liquid, you need to just keep beating or throw the whole darn thing out because you didn’t wait for it to cool and it’ll never ever, ever set up.  You could probably toss it in the freezer for a few minutes to re-cool if necessary.
  Note: do not grease the mold!  I'm serious.  Don't do it.

serve with whipped cream.  Whoa there me buckaroo!  First you need to chill that puppy overnight.  Maybe a little more than that, but not much more.  To release from the mold, run a knife along the top edges, then set the mold in hot water for a few seconds to melt just the outer bits of the jello, then put the serving plate over the top, turn the whole thing over, and gently lift, jiggle, shake, SPLAT onto the serving plate.  Hope it comes out clean.  Mine almost did.

Time:  Let’s not even think about it.  I’ll say 15 min. prep, 40 minutes of beating stuff (whipped cream not included), chilled overnight, then 5 minutes of getting stuff ready & unmolding it the next day.  Add time for laughing & some serious mess-ups.

Cost:  The ingredients were around $5. 
Let’s not discuss the $32 I coughed up for the antique jell-o mold from the ONLY shop that had molds in the entirety of Livingston County.  After 6 antique shops, 3 regular stores & actually calling around to several supermarkets, some of whom had no clue what I was even talking about I was exhausted, frustrated & apparently my brain had turned to jell-o.  It was a darn expensive flop.  Fortunately that mold is lovely & reusable.   Note on Jell-O molds: don’t grease them, no matter what Mother’s friend says.  Just don’t.  Use hot water to loosen it like you are supposed to. 

I suppose going from 'useless goop'
to 'almost-dessert' is a success, right?
Success:  After an amazing failure... Not.  Or kinda.  But still not really.The taste wasn’t bad, even though I hate lime jell-o.  It had a lovely meringue flavor, and you could easily make a meringue dessert topping this way; but as a stand-alone, not so much.  It would be delightful with whipped cream.  In the future, I’ll stick with Knox gelatin and do my own flavors, which are much cleaner & don’t have horrible migraine-inducing dyes in them.  Needless to say, I did not make the whipped cream.  It was collapsing as I looked and when we cut it it went ‘splurk/fizz’ into a flattened pile on the plate.  It was rather funny.
Accuracy:  Only sorta.  The Jell-O recipe has changed over the years, the packet is actually smaller and so I’d recommend using less liquid than the directions say to do, maybe ¼ c. less as I ended up with an unstable dessert.  Cut back on the water not the juice or the egg whites.
I did use the hand crank egg beater to mix this, so I could see how the tools act differently.  The whisk didn’t add quite as much air, though it did the job.
I also used an early-ish mold, at least the earliest that Highway Robbery Antiques had to offer (they are very nice & extremely knowledgeable, but ouch! My pocket book… and the kicker was that my mother brought home 2 molds from a thrift shop in the one place I didn’t call for $2 each - I could die).
  If I were to do this recipe again I would use a solid mold vs. the one with the bunt-style hole.
Chilled in a modern fridge, which is not substantially different from an old ice box considering the fridge in question. Be aware that this recipe uses raw eggs.  I used raw eggs.

Overall, I wouldn’t make this again unless I needed a twist on a meringue recipe.  Clearly not my favorite.
It might be awesome on Key Lime Pie, or Lime-Meringue.  
Don't forget the whipped cream.


Madame Berg said...

This was so interesting - and funny - and I'm glad you had a bit of fun with it, in spite of everything (and as you said, that lovely mould can be used over and over again! It's beautiful).

Interesting that they changed the size of the jell-o - do you know why? It's a bit sad in regard to all those vintage recipes that no longer can be used as is.

I'm from Sweden and jell-o isn't really a thing here, but I once made a recipe with lime jell-o. It was probably one of the worst things I've ever eaten:

Gail Kellogg Hope said...

I think most of the jell-o recipes should probably be the same, the directions still call for 1c. hot/ 1 c. cold; it's not different. I think it made a difference for this because I was adding so much more liquid. It was double the original volume.
The real issue for the food historian is that there is a substantial difference in the actual ingredients of the mix, most of which didn't even exist pre-1970.

Lime jello really is gross, but it's a Thing in some places in the US.

Knox is much closer to what Jell-O was back in the day, and that is what we prefer, but this was a good experiment.

Gail Kellogg Hope said...

Your salad was beautiful.

I think jello has a lot of visual appeal.

Madame Berg said...

It sure does look wonderful!

Gail Kellogg Hope said...

Ah! I forgot.
My friend Missy bid me mention that her grandfather Morton's horse Walter, who was traded to him to pay a bar tab, became one of the first bits of Jell-O marketed under that name.

Just as an FYI.