Jello didn’t figure into my childhood much at all. Sure, there were the school lunches – those glistening green squares arrayed in Pepto-Bismol pink finger bowls. But my stepmother was a secular Jewish hippie who subscribed to her own unique dietary laws: Mostly vegetarian, mostly locally produced (the Co-op was big around our house – things weren’t called organic back then, but they pretty much were), and if it was meat it was kosher, by G-d.
And Jello, that middle American staple derived from the hooves of, well, hoofed animals, was not kosher.
Which is not to say we didn’t talk about Jello around our house. My stepmom made sure we understood just how heinous it really was, and we then floated that information to the kids at school when the lunch ladies brought out the jiggling squares. This information was met with the same incredulous horror and circulated with the same glee that greeted the rumor that Bubble Yum was made of spiders’ eggs. Which is to say: It had no impact on the consumption of Jello at Slavens Elementary School at all.
Despite my early programming, Jello has always intrigued me as the stuff of wonder and legend, but that’s not to say that I ever developed a taste for it – I never have.
With one exception: That would be Thanksgiving.
It has long been a tradition, among the descendants of the house of Gooch (my maternal line), to partake of foodstuffs that not one of us would ever serve up at any other time of the year. This includes green bean casserole, cranberry sauce still bearing the ridge marks of the can that bore it, and yams topped with blackened marshmallows -- not to mention a 12 pound frickin’ turkey.
Queen of all these seasonal delicacies is The Jello. Nini’s Cherry Jello, to be precise.
Unique among Jellos for the requirement that it be dissolved in boiled Coca-Cola, Nini’s Cherry Jello was most certainly culled from one of those swank company cookbooks of the 1950s. But its provenance is uncertain, if only because I’ve never asked. Once I came of age I merely received Nini’s Cherry Jello recipe with due reverence and awe, invested forthwith in a shiny new Jello mold -- and then I made the Jello.
Because there are some things you don’t mess with -- and tradition is one of those things.
Nini’s Cherry Jello
1 small package of cherry jello
3 oz. of Philly cream cheese
16 oz dark sweet pitted cherries
9 oz crushed pineapple
1 bottle of Coca-Cola
fistful of pecans -- maybe two
Strain fruit syrups into measuring cup and add enough Coke to equal 2 cups.
Dissolve Jello within the boiling liquid.
Remove from heat.
Sprinkle in cream cheese chunks.
Cool until liquid is the consistency of unbeaten egg whites.
Fold in cherries and pecans and pineapple.
Chill until the guests arrive.