Wednesday, November 24, 2010


One or two ongoing thoughts about jelly and Jell-O, specifically about how they get advertised and sold.  Now, we all know that the images on packages and in cookbooks never bear much relation to the way food actually appears when we eat or make it.  But jelly takes things to a whole other level.  My roasts don’t look as good as Jacques Pepin’s but they seem to come from more or less the same planet.  Not so with jelly.

I’m really taken with the Rowntree’s ad above.  It suggests a standard of fine living and elegance that is surely beyond most jelly eaters, and of course has nothing whatsoever to do with real life.  Were domestic servants ever really that skilled with jelly?

I’m equally amazed by the Jell-O cookbooks I see for sale in American antique shops. Yes you could perhaps, given enough time and determination, a team of helpers and just the right molds, come up with something that vaguely resembled the stuff displayed in these books, but you just wouldn’t, would you?

Maybe it’s just very hard to know how to advertise and sell jelly.  Since the mid-1970s – with gaps - Bill Cosby has been the face of Jell-O in America.  He seems an unlikely spokesman, but it’s hard to think of anyone who’d be a better fit, certainly from that period.  Goldie Hawn? Mel Brooks?  Bruce Dern?

Oh, and if you’re inclined to reply to the rhetorical question in the ad above that neither the Jell-O nor Cosby’s shirt is in any way cool, well, then you’re just a cynic.

Sometimes the Jell-O imagery can get completely out of hand. I’m not even sure what’s going on in the picture above (you'll probably need to click on it).  Have the people in the cabin left the Jell-O outside because they have no fridge and the cabin’s too warm?  Or have they left it outside as a peace offering to the bear?  If it’s the latter then I fear the worst.  Once a bear’s got a taste for animal collagen then he’s coming inside the cabin and you’re next on the menu.  Bears don’t worry too much if they eat their dessert before their meat course.

And finally, just in case you thought jelly was an innocent and frivolous pleasure – and Ok if you’re reading Psycho-Gourmet then you probably don’t think that for  moment – but anyway, here’s a passage by Don DeLillo, not a name that’s exactly synonymous with innocence or frivolity.  It’s from his novel Underworld, though it appeared as a short story in the New Yorker, titled “Sputnik.”

The passage runs, “She remembered coming home one day about six months ago and finding Eric with his head in a bowl of her antipasto salad.” We’ve already established that she makes a fine antipasto Jell-O salad.  “He said he was trying to eat it from the inside out to test a scientific theory of his … But she didn’t believe it.  She didn’t know what to believe.  Was this a form of sexual curiosity?  Was he pretending the Jell-O was a sort of lickable female body part?  And was he engaged in an act of unnatural oral stimulation?”

Now, that might be a good way to advertise the stuff  

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps the most disturbing attempt at marketing Jell-O was the suggestion that one should make "Jigglers." This bizarre ritual involved making the gelatin with slightly less water, to make a stiffer (and more concentrated dessert), pouring it into a jelly roll pan to set, then cutting it with cookie cutters to make finger-food treats for the kids.

    The texture came out odd, the flavor too sweet for anyone over the age of 12, and eating Jello with your hands was a pretty great way to stain something, nearly anything.