Thursday, May 5, 2005
Jell-O, Jell-O Pudding—These Are ‘Comfort Foods’
By ROGER M. GRACE
A term that has come into vogue recently is “comfort food.” It’s defined by Princeton University’s online dictionary thusly:
“Food that is simply prepared and gives a sense of wellbeing; typically food with a high sugar or carbohydrate content that is associated with childhood or with home cooking.”
That describes Jell-O.
Jell-O became a nationally distributed product at the dawn of the 20th Century. There are few of us who don’t remember it from childhood and don’t associate it with home and family. It contains sugar, and is associated with “wellbeing” and contentment. This is perhaps the queen of the comfort foods.
Green or red Jell-O, in individual metal molds, was often in our refrigerator at home in the 1950s when I was growing up. It was unspoiled by soggy canned fruit. And there was none of that superfluous garnshment, whipped cream, which was invariably plunked onto the cubes of Jell-O in the school cafeteria.
My brother and I liked to drink Jell-O. Drink? Yes. Right after our mother mixed the powder with hot water, there was a delicious beverage, ours to savor if we intercepted some of it before it was consigned to the refrigerator. Mom actually indulged us a few times by making “fried Jell-O” — that is, taking some Jell-O that had cooled and congealed, putting it into a pan, and heating it so we could have a mug of hot Jell-O.
No statistician will ever be able to gauge how many tiny, wet fingers have plunged into Jell-O powder before the concentrate was deluged with hot water. The powder was, to borrow a phrase from a different product, “finger licking good.”
Eating copious amounts of Jell-O (cold, congealed Jell-O, that is), especially in the summertime, is a happy memory of childhood for many.
Jell-O chocolate pudding is also a dessert that has brought smiles to faces of countless toddlers (those smiles often accentuated by a dark brown outline around the lips). It, too, is a “comfort food.”
Yes, there are flavors of Jell-O pudding other than chocolate. But just as chocolate was rejected by consumers early in the 1900s as a flavoring for gelatin, it was popularly determined to be the ideal flavor for pudding, a view that persists today.
It was in 1936 that General Foods introduced its Jell-O-brand pudding powder. It was likely motivated to do so, at least in part, by the fact its closest rival in marketing a fruit-flavored dessert gelatin was already selling a pudding mix. The following is from a grocery store ad appearing in the March 29, 1933 issue of the Hopewell (New Jersey) Herald:
The ad typifies the approach used in promoting Royal Pudding. The new product could be obtained at stores for no cost or for a mere cent if the purchaser also bought packages of Royal Gelatin or other Standard Brands products, such as Chase and Sanborn Coffee.
Once Jell-O Pudding was introduced, General Foods used the same marketing method. Makers of other brands of gelatin desserts, such as Sparkle and Enzo Jel, also added pudding to their line and mimicked Royal’s technique.
Jell-O added tapioca pudding in 1948 and unveiled its instant pudding in 1953.
An advantage to General Foods in marketing a non-gelatin product bearing the Jell-O name was that this would help to avoid Jell-O becoming a synonym for fruit-flavored gelatin. If the word fell into generic usage, trademark protection would be lost.
Acutely aware of this peril, Jell-O has come to be referred to in ads and promotional materials as Jell-O® brand gelatin. It used to be, however, that Jell-O, standing alone, was used by the maker to indicate the gelatin product, and it alone. In 1900, Genesee Pure Foods began marketing “Jell-O,” i.e. gelatin, and “Jell-O Ice Cream Powder.” (The latter was discontinued at the outset of World War II.)
On Lucille Ball’s radio comedy, “My Favorite Husband,” this jingle was sung at the start of the show:
“J-E-L-L-OHHH! The big red letters stand for the Jell-O family. Oh, the big red letters stand for the Jell-O family. That’s Jell-O, yum, yum, yum. Jell-O Pudding, yum, yum, yum. Jell-O Tapioca Pudding, yes, sirree.” (The scripts were better than that jingle!)
Again, the word Jell-O, by itself, meant fruit-flavored gelatin. That meaning has “jelled.” No amount of advertising is apt to counter the public’s understanding of “Jell-O” in that sense.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company
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