Friday, June 27, 2014

How Jell-o saved the free world

How great it is to live in the age of the internet, so that you no longer have to go out and buy books of vintage recipe ads. They just keep popping up on Facebook, unbidden. An astounding number of them feature Jell-o. This Lime Cheese Salad has some sort of indescribable brown stuff inside the mold. Most of these recipes call for at least one cup of mayonnaise.

This thing just frightens me. It's a huge bell of sorts, full of "stuff" like a strange quivering aquarium. You'd never get it to stay up. And how would you ever serve it? Stick a spoon in this, and it'd explode.

There are no details of the ingredients here, so we must use our imaginations. Macerated ham, perhaps? Some sort of bread with the crusts cut off, or (shudder) cake? A layer of Cheez Whiz to form a sort of glue? I do love the clever touch of the olive in the centre, a sort of cyclops effect.

Combining the two deadliest foods in the world in one dish has a certain mad genius about it. That way you can get it all over with at once. 

The candle on the right is really a banana. Perhaps it also vibrates.

This astonishing scene features a sort of igloo jammed to the rafters with a solid brown material. It is topped by a thick layer of what looks like molten Velveeta. No Inuit or any other human being could ever live there. In the background there appears to be yet another jell-o mold, making one wonder if anyone ever ate a meal back then without one. There is a blob of white stuff (mayonnaise?) on top of it.  The red dessert material appears to be more Jell-o.

No, no! I mean it, sincerely - this was considered food! This appeared in recipe books and in advertisements for products, which means housewives must have actually prepared it! Green nauseating slop with pink nauseating slop in the middle, plus a lemon curl.

YES - I want to be happy when company comes. So bring on the Hellman's! Bring on a rectangular brick of overprocessed meat with a cubic green filling of unknown origin!

My feeling is that this is post-war stuff and people still had a rationing mentality. My own mother frequently served creamed chipped beef on toast, the chipped beef coming in a JAR and having the consistency of thin, stretchy leather. She did frequently make jell-o molds, though not monstrosities like these. Creamed salmon. Fried bread n' gravy. Corned beef and boiled cabbage. These were the foods I was raised on. They had a sort of primitive glory to them.

This makes me shudder, because it is an ad for beef suet. I thought beef suet was the stuff my mother asked for at the butcher shop, which she was given for free because she was such a good customer, and which she threw out on the snow for the birds to eat to get through the winter. It was white, crumbly, hard as rock, and unfit for human consumption. "Atora" is called The Good Beef Suet. I can't imagine what The Bad Beef Suet would be like.

You know that crazy guy who did the paintings of cats, the ones with the staring eyes and bristling fur?  I think I've said enough.

This was once, apparently, a salmon, but it suffered a bad fate, its gob crammed with parsley, an olive for an eye (and olives seemed to be one of the four food groups back then), surrounded by masses of brussels sprouts (another food I gagged on). There are brown 'n serve rolls back there, and on either side, two boatlike structures full of - oh God, I can't go on any more.

And yet, I could not resist doing a blow-up (or is that throw-up?) of this rectangular-meat thingie to try to figure out what it is. Let's see if the other half of it is legible. . .

Transcription: SUPPER FOR SIX

Cream of Tomato Soup     
Corn Sticks      
Fresh Pineapple Mint Cup       
Ginger Cookies       


Scoop out center of a 1 1/2 pound piece of bologna, leaving a shell. Soak 1 tbsp. plain gelatin in 2 tbsp. cold water and dissolve over hot water. Mix 1 1/4 cups cooked mashed peas with 1 tbsp. Real Mayonnaise, 2 tsp. minced onion, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper. Add dissolved gelatine and pack into bologna shell. Chill thoroughly. Place on platter on salad greens. Heap with Real Mayonnaise. Garnish with radish roses, parsley and onion rings, as illustrated. *NOTE: Use left-over bologna in sandwich fillings for next day's lunches.

But hist! What's this I see at the bottom, in that little white box?

Grow More in '44 FOOD (with an odd little symbol that looks like a hand carrying a wicker basket.) It also says, I think, "fights" and something else. A reference to war rationing, undoubtedly. It may pertain to maintaining a victory garden to help the cause.

And part of the blurb about Hellmann's Real Mayonnaise reads:

Real Nutrition! This Real Mayonnaise is rich in food energy. . . provides almost exactly the same amount, spoonful for spoonful, as vitaminized margarine, or butter. Good for many of the same uses, too - to help you keep wartime rationed menus up to your own proud "taste good" standard.

So now I get it. There's a war on, we can't manage much more than a rectangle of bologna for supper, so let's hollow out the middle and fill it with gelatinized mashed peas to dress it up, then call it a "salad". Not only that: bologna and mashed peas was a special "company's coming" dinner, not just an everyday meal.  It seems sad to us, but it's what they had to do.

As for the actual product, the mayonnaise, all that emphasis on "real" must reflect the abundance of fake products, such as off-grade margarine and lard disguised as butter, and anxiety about the family not getting enough calories and nutrition to grow and thrive. Kids in wartime Britain often grew up runty and unhealthy, and never did achieve a normal stature.

Sad, but they did get through, didn't they?

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