Jell-o Unscripted: the good, the really bad and the genius

jello fruit

When you’re as versatile a food construction agent as Jell-o and you’ve been around as long as Jell-o, you will have a rich and varied historical archive of potential recipe uses. Some of those uses are classic for all the right reasons. Some are not. In honor of all the Jell-o worthy spring events, we’re creating a highly subjective collection of the many faces of Jell-o: the good, the awful horrible bad and the genius.

The Good Jell-o

Strawberry poke cake, photo from Betty Crocker.

Poke Cake. Those of us who prefer eating simple with fresh ingredients cringe a little at a recipe that includes cake mix, Jell-o and Cool Whip. But it’s so tasty…and so easy. Extra points given to Team Betty Crocker for spearing their strawberry with a plastic cocktail saber.

strawberry pretzel salad
Jell-o strawberry pretzel/salad. Photo from Kraft.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad and/or Dessert. There are so many recipes for this unlikely combo out there that it’s almost needs it’s own website. This version is from the Jell-o mother planet. Feel free to try others. 

jello and fruit
Fruit suspended in Jell-o from at 1969 Good Housekeeping recipe book.

Jell-o with fruit. One of the reasons Jell-o remains such a favorite is that it is to the cook like paint is to the artist. You can mix it, you can mold it, you can texture it, you can add stuff to it and it will, as a rule behave in a predictable manner. Use refrigeration creatively to create layers, use glasses to make pretty parfaits (don’t pour hot jello into your pretty glassware, let it cool a bit), whip air into partially cooled Jell-o to get a cool bubbled texture…if you can dream it, you can probably do it. But there are some things that will make your vision fall apart, like adding the wrong fruit or adding too much liquid, so check out the link above for basic directions.

The Horrifyingly Bad Jell-o

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Jell-o with salad bits. From Huffington Post. With regrets.

My personal Jell-o horror was the salad my mom made with celery Jell-o (yes, it was a thing) filled with shredded carrots and celery. Three wrongs do not make a right, especially when what you think should be served is cherry Jell-o with big cherries floating in it. When celery Jell-o was confined to the dumpster of grocery history, she substituted lemon. That was even worse.

Although celery was the only flavor from the Jell-o house of horrors to cross our threshold, it was not the only savory flavor and here are the ads to prove it. 

It would be easy to go on and on here, because when Jell-o goes bad, it goes seriously bad. But Buzzfeed already put in the sweat, so easier just to read their post on Horrifying Retro Gelatin. Yes, some of their are not Jell-o based, some are plain gelatin, not branded packaged flavored gelatin. But I think it is entirely fair to paint Jell-o with a gelatin brush.

The Genius Jell-o

hello jello
Hello, Jell-o, the genius showcase of the Jello Mold Mistress.

If you feel like you want to dial up your Jell-0 artistry, spend some time with the Jello Mold Mistress of Brooklyn. We haven’t mentioned Jell-0 shots, but if you were looking for recipes for those and other incredible treats, you would find them in her book, Hello, Jell-o or on her blog.

And then there’s the world of 3D gelatin art. You know those beautiful glass paperweights with glass flowers suspended in a ball of glass…picture that. Then picture it made with gelatin and completely edible.

There are lots of sites that offer both instruction and supplies for this incredible food art. To get started, check out Gelatin Art Market and Art de Gelatin


gelatin cake
3D gelatin art wedding cake from Art de Gelatin.

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So go forward and congeal some spectacular desserts, salads or whatever strikes your fancy. If there is one mantra you should remember for Jell-o crafting, it’s this: Just because you can suspend it in Jell-o, it doesn’t mean you should.

What is your best Jell-o recipe? Or your most regrettable one? Share in the comments below!

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  1. You succeeded in making me laugh, cringe and love Jell-o (again!) all at the same time. I have to admit that I am secretly in love with that Jell-o wedding “cake”. Admirable to say the least!

  2. oh Laurie, you are so Funny! I Adore titles and descriptions from all your Fine articles! 🙂 and what beautiful pictures! and now, My mouth is watering again just thinking about having Strawberry poke cake! but I am on a Diet!! oh my… Bon Appétit à Tous! 😉

  3. I remember a meeting with children’s librarians (perhaps this was when Jello was celebrating a historic Birthday)and one library said they hooked up jello with an eeg machine and it made eerie wavelengths! Just “think” about that!

    A friend who grew up in Michigan makes his mom’s red white and blue jello for the fourth of July and it’s beautiful and always a hit!

    I love the horror story of the veggie jello

  4. Thanks for sharing! I like the poke cake and it is always a hit. Love the wedding cake one…have never seen that! As for the savory, it doesn’t appeal at all to me and will skip that one! Great article!

  5. My Mom made jell-o with fruit in it all the time and I can remember one with shredded carrots in it too. Thankfully, I do not remember vegetable flavored jell-o…ewww! That wedding cake is gorgeous!

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