Tag Archives: gelatin salads

Savoring the togetherness.

Deer on a coastal rock.

I hope you have people to love, and those who love you. Every conversation with a neighbor or hug from a grandchild feels more precious to me as the days go by; before November winds all the way down I want to share a few scenes and moments that have been to me infusions of grace and joy in the midst of “interesting times” in the world.

It was almost a month ago that my neighbor Kim had a dinner party for several couples and one widow (yours truly) on our block. It was a very restorative and healing time, I think for all of us. Several of these people I had hardly seen for two years, though they live just a few doors down. Half of them had known my late husband.

After we were seated around a long dining table, our host gave a surprising toast to “The first of many more post-covid neighborhood parties!” All cups were raised, and the general tone of the ensuing comments, and the whole evening, was of holding on to our humanity and neighborliness as much as possible, no matter what comes. No one went home early that night; we sat around the gas firepit, or stood in the kitchen, chatting and sipping and savoring the togetherness, acting out the toast for a few blessed hours.

Closer to Thanksgiving, I returned to the beach with a former housemate who accompanied me three years ago just before she moved to New York. Our time there was refreshing and sweet; instead of the scores of seals we’d seen that time, gulls by the hundreds were swooping and gliding back and forth where a river empties into the sea.

We watched them, and the waves, while sitting on a log. When it was time to go, we climbed up a sand dune and tromped back to the parking lot, weaving through clumps of grass in our bare feet.

A few days later, who should arrive but my dear daughter Pippin and her family. They came in stages; when only three of them had got here, we went for a walk in the hills. It was the first time I’d been with Pippin in that particular park since the day Jamie was born, lo these many years ago, the  day after my husband’s funeral. So Jamie had been along, too, and maybe the jostling of that walk in springtime had prompted him to start his journey into the outer world.

This day, he was climbing trees with Ivy. First they climbed a Valley Oak, then a Buckeye (horse chestnut), and finally a Bay (Laurel) tree. Pippin joined them up in the bay.

We noticed many little trees and shrubs that were fenced in by wire cylinders, presumably against nibbling by deer. From a sign, here is a list of species that have been planted in the last ten years:

Later we worked on pies for our feast, and the children had the idea of making gluten-free pie-crust cookies for Uncle Steve, for whose sake Pippin was making such a dough for a pumpkin pie. I assembled the fourth version of my famous Grapefruit Gelatin Salad, which after ten years I am still refining to accommodate the changing ingredients available in the stores, and the loss of my favorite, odd-sized dish I always used for it. I’ll pass the recipe along when I fix it so that it fits in one 9×12 pan.

Our long weekend was very full, starting with Divine Liturgy on Thanksgiving morning, and including two (food) feasts, the little hike; and a busy afternoon, when Pippin and the Professor helped me to sort through old camping equipment, put hardware cloth over my planter boxes where the birds have been pecking, and hang fairy lights in the living room.

This little report covers only a small fraction of the loving friends and family who have made me feel the solace of God and the blessedness of the world. I reconnected with old friends and drank tea with many others. It has been a good month in important ways. May God keep our hearts during the next one and bring us with joy to the Feast of the Nativity of Christ.

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” I John 4

Jello is so refreshing.

When I was a child, a leafy-green salad was prepared almost every evening of the year, including on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Our custom was to eat our salad after the main course, but on many holidays the healthy bowlful was discovered too late, waiting forgotten on the kitchen counter, long after anyone had any appetite left.

GJ preparing heavy dishes

My husband’s family introduced me to the tradition of jello at Thanksgiving. My mother-in-law had a nice strawberry jello salad that our whole family came to appreciate because it was one item on the heavy-laden table that wasn’t calorie-dense and fat-heavy.

Over the decades since then we’ve had a variety of lighter dishes on our table for these feasts, including Korean Kale Salad and other salads that may seem odd to the typical palate but keep us feeling like our usual happy Glad folk. For many years we let the jello custom lapse, probably because it was too sweet, and we didn’t need another item that seemed to belong in the dessert category.

When half my life was past I discovered that I did love grapefruit after all, and I experimented with creating a gelatin salad recipe that would be less sweet, and would feature the refreshingly bitter-sour tang of grapefruit. I love grapefruit even more after having lived in Turkey briefly, where they spell it greypfrut. But I didn’t eat any jello there, so that is just name-dropping — even though as you can see the Turks did not drop the name when they were changing the spelling.

Here now is the current version of my gelatin salad. I have played around with it over the years, using coconut milk and pineapple juice at times, making a smaller batch, and adding fresh peeled orange sections when I had them. So it is definitely flexible  — try it with your own preferred flavors or handy ingredients.

Grapefruit Gelatin Salad

64 oz. Ocean Spray Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice Drink
7 envelopes unflavored gelatin granules
1 qt. L&A or any pineapple-coconut juice
1 cup sugar
peeled fresh orange sections or a large can crushed pineapple

Put about 6 cups of the Ruby Red in a pot and whisk in the gelatin. Heat these together until the gelatin is dissolved. Add and dissolve the sugar, remove from heat and add the remainder of the Ruby Red along with the pineapple-coconut juice.

Refrigerate the gelatin until partly jelled. Stir in the fruit and refrigerate again until firm. I think next time I will put some sweetened flaked coconut on the top.

About the size of the pan: The one I use holds more than 3 quarts, and this salad after the fruit is added comes right to the top. It would be easier and maybe prettier to use a jello mold or fluted pan(s); then when the fruit has been mixed in I could prepare the pans by putting some shredded coconut and even a few maraschino cherries before adding the gelatin-fruit mixture.

I’d very much like to hear from any of you who also have favorite salad or vegetable dishes that lighten up your holiday menus. Leave a comment or link me to your blog. Thanks in advance! Oh, and if you just have jello stories, as I do, please tell me those, too.

Jello and Hospitality

In the Good Old Days, as they appear now to be, I never thought to make the kind of meal one might eat at a restaurant. We had soup and bread several nights a week, interspersed with stews made from whatever came from the vegetable garden, cooked with some eggs. If company came for dinner, I would add dessert, and set the table more carefully, but soup and muffins were still as likely as not the main event.

I was thinking about this the other night when our son-in-law was in town and I invited him to dinner late in the day. I didn’t want to try to put together something really fancy because I didn’t have a couple of hours to spend on it, so I concocted a quite decent dinner with what was in the refrigerator. Three leftover items, some ham from the freezer (I love the microwave!) and a green salad, and we were all quite happy with the result.

Jello wasn’t on the table that night, but I am working on incorporating it into the menus more, being inspired from two directions. Gelatin salads are making a comeback in the culinary world; renowned chefs now create gelatin dishes that are gourmet. (Or am I behind-the-times again, and they are through that phase?) They aren’t likely to have the Jello brand name in their titles, and all the artificial flavors or colors that we have become accustomed to, but that’s all for the better.

My friend Myriah wrote to me about her grandmother recently, and Jello figures in the story, which I share with her permission:

I remember my grandmother always in the kitchen cooking for her visitors and family. She would wake up before everyone and start baking sweet treats for the day. There was always a cake, pie or cookies freshly baked. Then she would make breakfast which always consisted of pancakes or waffles along with the eggs, bacon, sausage and canned fruit.

After breakfast dishes were cleaned up she often times would start canning fruit or peeling apples to make into applesauce. At 9 in the morning she would go to the donut store across from her house and have a lively conversation with neighbors. In the afternoons she would walk to town or go to her sewing club, Canasta club, or help out at the hospital. For a short time she went to bridge club but she stopped going being they didn’t break from cards and have a time to eat and enjoy each other’s company.

Every evening my grandmother made a huge meal for whoever was around. She often invited people she met during the day to come over and enjoy a meal. She loved people and would talk with anyone. When I was very young I would be nudged by my grandmother’s foot to quit staring at the guests. After dinner when I was helping with the dishes she would be explaining to me that it wasn’t nice to stare and that the person just had a drinking problem and had a big nose or that they slurred words because they couldn’t afford teeth, were dressed differently because they couldn’t afford clothes.

In my grandmother’s eyes everyone deserved to be loved and accepted right where they were at in life. Often times she would not give me an explanation, but would say they are an “odd duck” and that they just need to be loved. Her house was so different than my home. My parents guarded their privacy and even built a fence around the perimeter of our land to insure that privacy. Sometimes people would come to our house and ring the intercom and my mother would ignore them hoping they would drive away quickly. “Don’t talk to people you don’t know,” was often the message I heard growing up. When we had people over it was after my mom had fretted and planned for days what she would make for a meal or how she would cope with the guests.

I have a couple of memories swirling in my head as I write this. My mother stating that, “I wish your dad wouldn’t invite so many people from work.” Then I have another memory of my grandmother in her kitchen exclaiming ,”I love Jello, you can make a quick dessert and it is so cheap and feeds so many!”

My grandmother thought Jello could add to almost any meal. I am surprised she didn’t incorporate it into breakfast. When she was around 90 years of age and moving to a retirement home she gave me all of her recipe books and tin boxes of recipes. In one tin box there were over 50 Jello recipes. Almost any ingredient I find in my refrigerator I can use in one of my grandmother’s recipes. She has used cottage cheese, sour cream, whipping cream, lettuce, grapes, pineapple, cucumbers, onions, cranberries, nuts and even kale, just to name a few. She had Jello molds hanging on her kitchen walls. She also had a special glass dish to show off her layered Jello recipes.

I am fortunate to have had many days in my grandmother’s kitchen. I don’t have quite the joy she had when she talked about Jello. My girls and I have tried many of her Jello recipes over the years. They don’t remember their great-grandmother ever cooking. They remember drinking root beer and eating store-bought cookies in her retirement home. So, I have the tin of recipes sitting on a shelf. I read them once in awhile when I want to feel close to my grandmother.

I don’t remember eating Jello at my own grandmother’s house, but I did inherit her recipe box that included quite a few recipes for gelatin dishes. My mother-in-law got me started serving a Jello “salad” at Thanksgiving and I continued the tradition for a long time because we all found it a welcome contrast to the heavy foods on our plates.

Nowadays we try to have a couple of real vegetable salads on the sideboard at such feasts, but Jello is so much fun, I hate to abandon it entirely. I even made the rainbow jello pictured above for Christmas dinner one year. As my refrigerator is not level, it made for a wobbly rainbow that did not want to stand erect, but it is so pretty, I might even try it again now that several years have passed.

Grapefruit juice and fresh oranges went into the best concoction I made, and no artificial colors, but I haven’t perfected that recipe, [update: it’s now here in this post.] so I am going to give you one that comes down through my husband’s German relatives. I don’t care for it myself, but as I wanted this post to be about hospitality, it’s only right that I give this example of something I made many times for my husband’s sake, and for his birthday, actually.

Beet Salad

Heat in pan 1 cup water, 1/2 cup vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar. Boil 5 minutes with the following seasoning: 3/4 teaspoon salt and 3 or 4 shakes allspice.

In a bowl put 1 package lemon or lime Jello. Add the hot liquid (above) and dissolve Jello completely. Add 1/2 cup beet juice drained from a #2 can (about a 20 oz. can) of beets, to make 2 cups of liquid, and the drained cubed or julienne beets from that #2 can. Put in a pan and refrigerate until firm.

Serve with a dressing made of 3 boiled eggs that have been cut up and mixed with mayonnaise and a bit of salt.

Whether you serve your guests Jello or gelatin or something else more elaborate or healthfully balanced, I hope it is a project that doesn’t stress you out and keep you from putting your guests at ease, as the food is the least part of being truly hospitable.