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poofandmook's avatar

What was the fascination with gelatin and canned food in the 50s-ish era?

Asked by poofandmook (17212 points ) January 22nd, 2014

I found this recently and I am mildly obsessed.

What I don’t understand is how commonplace it was to shove a bunch of crap into a mound of gelatin. There was one recipe where she ruined a perfectly good potato salad by pouring gelatin into it and molding it. Granted, the blogger and her husband really liked it, but still. Especially when it comes to mayonnaise and gelatin, tuna and gelatin, etc.

Why was everything in a Jell-O mold? And why is it that the recipes are always full of canned foods, like fruit and spaghetti?

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21 Answers

Judi's avatar

There were a lot more canned foods even 30 years ago. Fresh produce used to be seasonal like really seasonable. You couldn’t get strawberries in December. It was cheaper to buy canned food than to get fresh produce.
I think a combination of corporate farming and GMO’s has made it cheaper (relatively) to buy fresh produce than it was back then.
The jello I just don’t get either unless it was just a novelty at the time. Now I have to look up the history of jello.

Aster's avatar

I don’t know how widespread this was but thank God I never saw it.

answerjill's avatar

My off the cuff guess is that these fads went along with the “science craze” that hit the US after Sputnik.

johnpowell's avatar

Well, bomb shelters were a growth industry back then.

El_Cadejo's avatar

Want something to really blow your mind? Look up aspic.

poofandmook's avatar

@uberbatman: that’s what a lot of this stuff is. I took care not to say “Jell-O” because most of them use plain gelatin or this stuff called “gelatine”... it’s not fruit flavored like Jell-O. NASTY.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@poofandmook You can do some really awesome stuff with aspic from a culinary arts POV. I’ve seen some amazing patterns/designs done in this way and generally it’s a clarified stock with gelatin added to it so it’s quite tasty as well.

poofandmook's avatar

See, I don’t like gelatin. The texture makes me want to gag.

thorninmud's avatar

All of the branches of the culinary arts in France have specialties that are really mostly for show. Bakers do pate morte loaves; pastry chefs do pulled sugar pieces; chocolatiers do chocolate sculptures. They’re all just ways of strutting your artistic skills, freed from the constraints of having to be good to eat.

The equivalent of this in classic French cuisine was a lavish platter for a cold buffet table. Encasing everything in aspic (or other form of gelatine-rich broth) let the platter hold up for a long period of time without drying out, and gave it a varnish-like gloss. Like those other examples, you technically could eat it, but it was mainly there to be swooned over. Even in France, this isn’t done much anymore. It’s considered very old-fashioned.

So my guess is that American cooks, taking there cues from the French, considered this to be very “ooh la-la”, and didn’t actually get the memo about it being mostly for presentation.

YARNLADY's avatar

It was mostly due to advertising, and many women started entering the work force for the first time in U. S. history, so they were susceptable to time saving products.

KNOWITALL's avatar

When foods are in molds, the individual flavors tend to be lost and you focus on ‘how pretty it is’, so if you used tinned milk or powdered eggs, etc…then no one may ever know. Plus they took less time than several dishes and dishwashers weren’t commonplace.

Back then, canned food, tinned meat, etc..were popular because of the threat of war, bomb shelters were very popular, and as @YARNLADY says, women went to work because men were off fighting. That’s my theory.

JLeslie's avatar

My guess is advertising and trend. Jello brand got really creative in different ways to prepare their product. Tall dessert glasses that you tipped slightly while the jello cooled so that that color was at an angle, then maybe some cool whip, and a final layer of another color of jello. Fruit in jello. Less water when you make it so you can make jello shapes. Jello was/is inexpensive and low fat.

As far as trend, foods definitely trend. Fondue in the 70’s, Kale in 2010’s, Jello in the 50’s and 60’s and gelatin molds of every sort, desserts with whipped cream in the 70’s, cup cakes in the 70’s and now again in the 2000’s with a new twist on flavors and icings and visual, coca cola cake in the 70’s (I still make it and I still love it) bundt cakes trended for a while, there are so many trends.

Canning was practical. Back then we didn’t have huge freezers usually in the house, and there was a much smaller selection of frozen foods. Canning preserved foods to be used at any time.

flutherother's avatar

Fray Bentos corned beef wasn’t bad as I remember. We kept tinned foods in the house before we had a refrigerator.

SwanSwanHummingbird's avatar

We call that white people food. It’s gross. Why was everything in a loaf?

dxs's avatar

That first danish looks really good!

ibstubro's avatar

I agree about the texture of Jello being disgusting, @poofandmook. Throw some mini marshmallows in some lime Jello, and watch me gag.

I believe gelatine was popular in the 20’s and 30’s and 40’s, too. It was fun, colorful and playful for the roaring 20’s, and cheap, easy source of protein during the Depression and WW II.

I think part of the attraction of tinned veggies was a burgeoning consciousness of eating a balanced diet. Fresh veggies were seasonal, and frozen came in those attractive little bricks. – before microwaves (i.e., they were a major pain in the butt.)

I also agree about women entering the workforce, but that really began in force during the War.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

You have to remember that before the 50’s, life was different. The thoroughly modern 50’s woman was finally liberated from a lot of labor-intensive tasks. Canned and frozen food was a part of that. TV dinners were the rage in the 50’s. That is also when TV trays became popular. I really don’t know what possessed everyone to start throwing weird stuff into jello molds. My gran would make one with nuts, celery and carrots. From what I have learned on the web, the ladies magazines of the day were publishing jello recipes with everything from veggies to fruit to meat in them, as the ultimate in entertaining.

poofandmook's avatar

@skaggfacemutt: while that’s all well and good… What I don’t understand is that none of those things change one’s tastebuds. People had to taste that so much of this stuff was disgusting. Under no circumstances should tuna be anywhere near Jell-O!! Lol

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I guess they thought it was “cool”, like serving caviar (which is also pretty nasty).

ibstubro's avatar

Tastes do change, @poofandmook.

If you are an observant cook in a sit-down restaurant very long, you learn that presentation is at least half the battle.

Imagine the sensory overload experienced in a decade that brought us color TV, the interstate highway system, Disneyland and the McDonald’s Corporation. Following on the heels of the Depression and WW II, no less. Lucite was the rage and gelatine was edible Lucite.

I like tomato aspic and I think tuna would be a nice addition!

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