Saturday, February 13, 2010

All For the Love of Jell-O

Note: I just submitted this write-up for the next Chicken Soup for the Soul's Family Matters book.

Jell-O is the official snack for the state of Utah, and it’s reported that the state also holds the record for the highest per capita sales for green gelatin of any state in the U.S. But few people know the lengths that one woman went to in order to ensure that her family could continue to enjoy their favorite Jell-O dessert.

It all started back in November of 1985 when my mother went grocery shopping. On her list was blackberry Jell-O, the necessary ingredient for the popular dessert Mom enjoys bringing to family parties, church cookouts and work dinners. She had looked for it at two different grocery stores only to find empty shelves. On a return trip to one of those stores, Mom discovered they no longer even had a tag for it. Suspicions mounting, she decided to find out why her favorite flavor was disappearing.

Someone finally had to call General Foods to find the answer. They were no longer going to make blackberry Jell-O. “What? No blackberry Jell-O?” Mom went into a panic.

Much like a dedicated environmentalist determined to preserve a species for the enjoyment of future generations, Mom began her own preservation efforts. She methodically searched the shelves of every grocery store in her area for her beloved flavor. When she found it, she bought it. All of it.

Storing the boxes in several different locations made it possible to disguise the actual numbers of the growing horde. After a few months, however, Dad caught on. Mom recalls, “I really didn’t know how much I had. I didn’t start counting until Dad said, ‘Don’t you think you have enough?’ ‘No,’ I said. To which he replied, ‘Well, let’s see how much you’ve got.’ It was then that we realized I had spent a couple hundred bucks. But you know, if you’re just buying six or ten boxes at a time, you don’t realize that it’s adding up.”

Just what would motivate an otherwise sane woman to spend well over $200 on blackberry Jell-O, accumulating over 300 6-oz. boxes? I put the question to Mom. “I love it!” she said. “I wanted to make that Jell-O until I died.”

It is now 2010, 25 years since Mom’s search and rescue efforts. I asked her how many boxes remain. “Just four,” she said. “I’m saving them so that you can serve my favorite Jell-O dessert at my funeral.” (Mind you, Mom is nowhere near death’s door.) Those may be her wishes, but unless she puts it in her will, I have other plans.

You see, just the other day as I was trolling the aisles at the grocery store, I noticed a new Jell-O flavor – blackberry fusion. Now that they’ve reintroduced a blackberry-flavored Jell-O, I’ll use it in the Jell-O traditionally served at funeral dinners in Utah, and save the four vintage boxes to display near Mom’s casket. In fact, I just might slip a box of blackberry Jell-O into the casket to be buried with her. That way Mom can enjoy her favorite Jell-O recipe in heaven!

Mom’s Heavenly Jell-O
2, 6-oz. boxes blackberry Jell-O (or 4, 3-oz. boxes)*
1 large can crushed pineapple, including juice
1 can blueberries, including juice (not pie filling)
1, 8-oz. container sour cream
1, 8-oz. package cream cheese
½ c. powdered sugar
chopped walnuts (optional)

Boil 4 cups water. Add Jell-O and dissolve. Pour into a 9x13 inch pan, adding scant 2 cups of cold water, pineapple and blueberries (with juice). Stir carefully. Let set in the refrigerator at least 4 hours or overnight.

Once set, top by mixing together sour cream, cream cheese and powdered sugar. (We like this topping lumpy.) Sprinkle with nuts and keep cold until ready to serve.

*If they discontinue making blackberry fusion Jell-O, you can substitute one, 6-oz. box of raspberry Jell-O and one, 6-oz. box of berry blue Jell-O.