Early Jell-O recipes, 1905

Gelatin has been around for centuries, but not in the powder form we use today. Making gelatin was a lengthy and labor-intensive process that didn’t appeal much to the average housewife. Not many home cooks wanted to boil bones, hooves and tendons for hours on end.

Unflavored pre-granulated gelatine came about in 1894 when Charles Knox figured out how to dry it to sell in sheets. Soon after, a husband/wife duo experimented with adding sweeteners and even gave it a new name: Jell-O. Lacking funds to successfully sell their product, the Waits sold the rights to flavored gelatine – name and all – to their neighbor for $450.

It wasn’t until 1900-1902 that the new name stuck, thanks to the marketing prowess of the Genessee Pure Food Company. Sweet, fruit-flavored instant gelatin became a hit.

In 1904 the world was introduced to the Jell-O girl, Elizabeth King. She was the face of Jell-O’s hugely successful advertising campaign that would soon alter American cuisine forever. In 1905, Genessee published a Jell-O recipe booklet called Jell-O: The Dainty Dessert, which is now in the public domain and available on Archive.org.

There are some great recipes in this booklet, but I only chose a few to post here for your reading pleasure. Even the strangest of the Jell-O recipes don’t sound too terrible, which is probably because mayonnaise-infused, gelatinized tuna salad rings served on beds of Iceburg lettuce hadn’t been invented yet.

This one appears to be a jellied garnish:

Date Dessert

While I wait for a box of ring and bundt molds to arrive on my doorstep (silly me for starting this project too soon), I figured I could try this Date Dessert. I know, I know, it’s not really molded, but it is Jell-O. I’m giving myself a pass just this one time.

This dessert is better than I expected! The stuffed dates are delicious and the coconut macaroons go well with the raspberry Jell-O. I thought I’d have a tough time with the texture of the cookies, but it works somehow.

You will need:

  • 1. 6 oz. package of strawberry or raspberry Jell-O
  • 12 large pitted dates
  • 12 pecans
  • Powdered sugar
  • Pie or other shallow dish
  • Macaroons to line the dish (approx. 18-24, depending on size).

The instructions are all there and easy to understand, but I’ve written a modernized version just for you:

Prepare the Jell-O according to the instructions on the package. While the Jell-O cools, line a dish with macaroons and set aside. Stuff each date with a pecan and roll around in powdered sugar. When the Jell-O has thickened, pour into the dish and place the powdered dates upright. Refrigerate until set.

Here are a few more tips for anyone at home who wants to give it a try!

  • Be sure you have enough macaroons to cover the base of your dish. I did not have enough, so I did what I could. I also had to trim the bottoms so that they would be completely submerged in the jello.
  • Be patient! You can pour the jello over the macaroons when it’s still somewhat thin, but you will need to be sure the dates will stand up without falling before attempting to stick them in. The powdered sugar might splatter but don’t worry, it will dissolve.
  • When you pour the jello into the dish, your macaroons might float. If that bothers you, just push them down gently with a spoon and it will be alright. Try not to upset the jello too much, though, or it won’t set properly.

If you decide to make this at home, send me a photo or comment below!

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