Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Food: Recipes, cookbook reviews, food notes, and restaurant reviews. Unless otherwise noted, I have personally tried each recipe that gets its own page, but not necessarily recipes listed as part of a cookbook review.

A Decade of Jell-O Joys: 1963-1973

Jerry Stratton, May 18, 2022

Cranberry Squares

These gelatin—whipped cream squares are a better-than-cheesecake cheesecake.

One of the joys of old cookbooks is watching food change over the years. At the October New Braunfels Library Book Sale, I found a copy of the 1973 New Joys of Jell-O; on a quick browse it did not appear to be merely a copy of the old, circa 1963, Joys of Jell-O so I bought it.

As it turns out, I was wrong. There are many duplicate recipes; what changed were how they were presented and even their names. The Peach and Banana Mold has become the Peach-Banana Dessert. Everything is the same except it uses twice as much peach and it’s not a mold: it’s put in dessert cups.

Molds are still used in some recipes, but they’re not as universal in 1973 as they were in 1963.

The Under-the-Sea Pear Salad is displayed as a simple loaf instead of an ornate 1-quart mold. The recipe itself hasn’t changed, only the shape, and even that not much: while the first shape suggested is an 8x4 loaf pan, the second is a 4-cup mold. I chose to split the difference and make it in a less towering ring mold.

There’s more of an emphasis on convenience in the new book. If I had made it as a loaf, it would have tasted the same but would have been styled differently. It would also have been easier to unfold. The new Peach-Banana Dessert doesn’t even need to be unmolded—it’s eaten from the dessert cup it’s made in. You can take servings from the refrigerator as needed.

Under the Sea Pear Salad 1963

The cream cheese overwhelms the towering, molded 1963 Under the Sea Pear Salad.

Pear Salad with Mint

Under-the-Sea Pear Salad as I made it in a ring, and with lime juice and zest instead of lime jello.

Under the Sea Pear Salad 1973

The shimmering green jello is emphasized in the 1973 loaf version.

Also gone is the earlier book’s emphasis on economy. The Peach and Banana Mold of 1963 tells us that “Fruit flavor gelatin turns a small can of peaches and a single banana into a refreshing dessert for six persons.” There’s no focus on stretching meals in the 1973 Peach-Banana Dessert.

There are no photos of people in the 1963 book. The 1973 book is filled with happy people at elegant—or elegant for the time—settings.

Other recipes were made easier, and possibly were meant to promote failing products. The marzipan recipe in both books is almost exactly the same. The newer book calls for Baker’s Cookie Coconut instead of Baker’s Fine-Grated. Baker’s Cookie Coconut doesn’t exist anymore but you can still see it in recipes all over the Internet. Did they see its demise coming in 1973 and decide to goose its sales a bit?

The other difference is that a cup of grated blanched almonds becomes a cup of ground blanched almonds, a much easier thing to create in a home kitchen.

The most versatile of the new recipes is very similar to the most versatile of the old. I’ve made endless variations of the Cranberry Squares with various fruits; it’s a cheesecake-like dessert made in a crumb crust. Cranberry Squares are gone from the new book. The new book contains the equally wonderful Strawberry Yogurt Whip.

Yogurt is a new ingredient for 1973; there is no yogurt in the 1963 book.

I’ve never made the Strawberry Yogurt Whip with strawberries, but I have made it with the juice from steamed plums, with mandarin oranges, with bananas, and with Fireball Whiskey. I’ve made it in dessert cups, in ring molds, and in tower molds. I’m going to try it in a crumb crust, too, as an easy cheesecake. Being made with yogurt instead of cream cheese, it’s even lighter than the Cranberry Squares.

Joys of Jell-O

In 1963 you kept recipes on index cards. You had a magic card file from which anything could spring!

One recipe that didn’t survive the cut surprises me. There are no divinity candies in the new book. Adding gelatin ensured a nice, quick set—so quick I couldn’t coat them all in coconut before they dried. Even without coconut they’re great little candies. Everything else was made easier, but one of the easiest recipes was removed. Why? I suspect because they were also pure sugar.

Like the divinities of the older book, the recipe for Candied Fruit Peels in the new book closely follows the standard recipe for making candied citrus peels, adding fruit-flavored gelatin. The result is pretty much the same as standard candied peels, but with a darker color from the gelatin and additional flavor layered over the natural citrus of the lemon or orange.

I often replace flavored, colored gelatin in these recipes with unflavored gelatin. That’s why my Under-the-Sea Salad is paler than the photos in the book: I used unflavored gelatin with lime juice and zest instead of lime jello with its added food coloring. Since what gelatin adds to the fruit peels is a more intense flavor and a more striking color, there wouldn’t be any point in using unflavored, uncolored gelatin with fruit peels: the color and flavor are the main reasons for using gelatin.

If yogurt is coming into style, some other ingredients have gone out of style. The new Key Lime Pie omits sour cream, with no other changes. The old Pear Salad suggests that you “Unmold on crisp lettuce”. The new instead says “Unmold and garnish with chicory or watercress. Serve with mayonnaise, if desired.”

Both are fascinating books. It’s interesting how Jell-O’s strategies to convince homemakers to use more gelatin has changed over the years, from economy to convenience, and from “here’s the food you can make” to “here’s how happy you’ll be”.

The first book changed my views on gelatin. I’m not sure that the second would have, but now that I use gelatin, it’s a great book.

Mango Banana Mold

I made the Peach and Banana Mold using mangos, and thought to put it in a dessert glass without any help from the 1973 version.

Pastel Candied Fruit Peel

Candied fruit peel made with flavored gelatin is a lot more colorful than standard peel.

Plum Yogurt Whip

I had plum juice left over from pressure-cooker steamed plums; it made a great version of the yogurt whip.

Here’s the orange yogurt whip recipe; you can change it for any fruit juice you happen to have on hand. For a stronger flavor, you can replace the boiling water with boiling juice. And if you’re using flavorings instead of juice, such as vanilla or almond, a teaspoon or two should be fine, filling out with enough cold water to have enough cold liquid.

Orange Gelatin Yogurt Whip Ring

Orange Yogurt Whip

Servings: 6
Preparation Time: 5 hours

Ingredients

  • 1 packet unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • juice of two oranges
  • cold water
  • zest of two oranges
  • 8 oz yogurt
  • orange coloring if desired

Steps

  1. Bring water and zest to a boil.
  2. Dissolve gelatin in boiling water.
  3. Remove from heat.
  4. Add cold juice with enough water to make ¾ cup.
  5. Chill until slightly thickened.
  6. Add yogurt.
  7. Beat until mixture is light and fluffy.
  8. Pour into serving cups or mold.
  9. Chill at least two hours or overnight.
  10. Decorate with orange slices.

In response to All Mimsy cookbook reviews: I have now added all of the old cookbook reviews from the earlier Mimsy to the new Mimsy, though I’ve yet to add all the really old reviews. These are all of the books I’ve reviewed, in alphabetical order.