Thursday, January 8, 2015

In Heaven There Are No Jell-O Shots

The other day I needed to make a salad to take to a funeral dinner, so I did what any modern kitchen wizard would do.

I Googled it.

Usually I just take my go-to specialty for any gathering: orange sherbert/Jell-O salad. I even keep a supply of orange Jell-O and mandarin oranges in the cupboard in case of emergency.

The key ingredient, of course, is the pint of orange sherbert. That's just not something I'm willing to sacrifice freezer space for long term. And no one wants long-term orange sherbert, trust me. For some unfathomable reason, pints of orange sherbert can be very hard to find... especially when I am in dire need. This always makes me wonder: Is everyone else making this salad, too?

Do people actually eat orange sherbert by itself? Or is it like Cool Whip (the final ingredient), relegated forever to a supporting role?

As my wondering grows exponentially, eventually I arrive at: Do grocery stores on either coast even stock Jell-O and pints of sherbert?

We in the Midwest do love our Jell-O. Jell-O and sherbert seem to go hand in hand, at least when it comes to salads. Would I want to live in a world without Jell-O? Or sherbert?

This orange salad is a tradition in my husband's family. His grandmother used to make it for him and, as he was the only boy-child in the family, his mother and sisters followed suit. I'm more than happy to join the enablers because it is an easy, easy recipe. One that I have only screwed up a couple of times.

I have even been entrusted with the special bowl that Grandma always served it in. Or not. That's the problem with family recipes. There's a certain amount of built-in ambiguity – or as the hubby calls it “revisionist history.” Everyone remembers a different bowl and/or salad. (But if either sister is reading this: You are right. Your sister is wrong.)

While I happily make the salad, I draw the line at using The Bowl. Despite years of marriage, I carry outsider guilt. What if I break The Bowl?

Some family members think The Bowl was used for the other salad – a strawberry concoction that (may or may not have) had a pretzel crust and layer of cream cheese. Then again, either of the salads (orange or strawberry) may (or may not have) been made in a ring mold.

Of course it's not just my husband's family who perpetuate the whole recipe/serving dish family tradition.

My grandma always made what (I swear) she called “Heavenly Hash,” although if you Google it, you'll need to look for “Waldorf Salad.” Her version featured Cool Whip, mini-marshmallows, apple chunks, pecans, and swearing whilst halving the red grapes to remove the seeds. And it was always – always – served in a white milk-glass bowl.

My mom always made Four-Layer Dessert for funerals and other functions. She usually made chocolate (topped with chocolate curls) or coconut (with toasted coconut), but she was also known to make the occasional banana version (with real banana slices) if she was feeling wild and crazy.

My first memory of this dessert was a pistachio version made for a 4-H meeting, back when we always had color-coordinated refreshments served on glass snack trays. The punch (usually featuring sherbert) was served in matching glass cups, ladled out of an honest-to-God (glass) punch bowl.

The hub's family calls this dessert Texas Special, and it is almost exclusively chocolate. Not that I'm complaining. Everything tastes better when someone else make it.

I, myself, am a complete and total failure when it comes to making this dessert. I am unable (no matter how many tips my sisters-in-law give me) to successfully make the crust. However, I do double up on the cream cheese/Cool Whip/powdered sugar layer to compensate. In my humble opinion, this layer should be designated a salad in its own right and served in the Holy Grail.

But I digress.

My Google search for “funeral salads” was both surprisingly successful (apparently “funeral salads” is a popular search term), and dishearteningly un-varied. I am currently taking a class in nutrition, so I am victim of a nagging little voice that poo-poos all the traditional funerial salads: mayonaise, Cool Whip, mini-marshmallows, Jell-O... ewww! All of these are comfort-food – and thus funeral-salad – staples.

The problem is that in a pot-luck setting, everyone has their own speciality. I could have tried to branch out to broccoli salad, but someone always brings one of those. I could have tried pasta salad – ditto. Don't even think about pea-salad or macaroni salad, the market is covered. And potato salad straddles that fine line between side dish and salad. Better to commit a mortal sin than to annoy the church kitchen ladies.

Then there are my own personal food rules: no mixing veggies and fruit. Or veggies and Jell-O, if I can help it. God forbid you combine veggies and Cool Whip. Lime Jell-O deserves its own special ring in Hell. And, although I like raisins in theory (and by themselves), please keep them out of my salad. I will eat them in a broccoli salad provided it includes bacon, but I won't be happy about it.

While we're at it, the only Jell-O I want at my funeral dinner is Jell-O shots.

Let's just make this easy on every one and order pizza.

And beer.

And let's do it before I die.


  1. Jello Colonial lanes has jello shots!! Love the blog!!

  2. I'm a crap bowler, but great at jello shots (total lie)!

  3. Time for my version of “revisionist history". In my version, Scott's favorite salad was the strawberry one with pineapple, bananas and a sour cream middle made in a 9x13 glass pan, no pretzel crust. That crusty version didn't appear in my life until after 1985. There was an orange thing/salad that showed up at family gatherings, but I recall that it had cottage cheese in it which made it totally inedible. Never touched the stuff, too icky and I've never made it, not even for Scott. (might be different recipe). Don't remember the special bowl either, and as the eldest grandchild you might think I'd remember such things, but then Scott would pipe in with 'being so much older, I would tend to forget things'. As for Texas Special, the chocolate version is version number 2 as the original was made with coconut cream pudding (I have the recipe card from 1977 if anyone doubts that). I think chocolate came on the scene when coconut cream pudding became hard to find. My in-laws in Texas prefer the original version and I often have to make trips to Fareway, which stocks coconut cream pudding, and send care packages their way. We also were served an apple salad with grapes (sometimes not seeded) and an assortment of other additions all held together with grandma's homemade mayonnaise. All of this was written with a crystal clear memory - I'm right and anyone who says otherwise, is wrong.

  4. I promise to bring the jello shots to your funeral and they will contain no veggies nor pretzels. Just strawberry jello and vodka. OR, I might just skip the jello ...

  5. Kim, you will be the most popular woman there!