Jell-O is a cheap product that can be found gracing the shelves of grocery stores. However, gelatin was once a time consuming and arduous task, generally only served by hostesses if they had a staff. Calves’ feet had to be boiled for hours, the fat skimmed off, the liquid strained and flavored, packed into a mold, and finally chilled until set. Due to the involved process, gelatin was considered an upper-class dish until Peter Cooper developed a powdered gelatin in the 1840s. However, it never took off in popularity under him, or even Pearle Waite who added flavorings to the plain gelatin (and named it Jell-O). Waite sold to Orator Woodward who finally cracked into the market through vigorous advertising with recipe books and ads. During the Great Depression, Jell-O helped to stretch meals as meat and vegetable dishes appeared more substantial when placed within gelatin. Continuing into the 1940s, Jell-O dishes continued in popularity as they required less effort but could still look nice coming out of a decorative mold. Fortunately, Jell-O dishes filled with meat and fish have fallen out of favor, but the product remains popular as a dessert or snack – especially with children.
Gelatin molds ranged from plain to ornate – or even shaped like fish. Naturally, you would place any fish gelatin salad in the fish mold (and don’t forget the eye made with an olive). The museum has a mold that may have been used for gelatin. It has “G.M.T. Co. Germany” engraved on the lid. This company was an import company based out of New York that sold kitchen goods. Many of the products came from Germany, as is the case with this mold.
Did your family have a favorite Jell-O dish filled with meat or vegetables? Tell us about it in the comments!
The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.