Whatever happened to red Jell-O (and the mealtimes of my youth)?

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One of the single biggest differences I have observed between the childhood of the older generation and the youth of today has to do with food.

We were raised in an era of eating three meals at home, always sitting down together as a family. If one of the seven of us did not appear at the table for a meal, we knew that person was either very sick or in really big trouble.

Plain fare

The food placed on the table wasn’t always superior, it was certainly not fancy, and it was quite often designed to fill us all up rather than please our taste buds.

For the longest time, a trip to the grocery store found us filling up the cart with several dozen eggs and 50-pounds of potatoes, along with sugar, flour and a variety of canned goods, and maybe a box of pasta or two.

If we were very lucky, we might get to buy a gallon of either ice cream or ice milk, whichever was offered at the best price. I recall occasionally making a special stop at a Lawson’s grocery store with ice cream coupons we had received from our milk hauler who delivered to Lawson’s dairy. What a treat!

Potatoes were the best staple in the kitchen. I remember helping to peel lots of potatoes at the kitchen sink over the years. We would fry them, mash them, boil them, bake them. We would make potato salad by the gallon.

We quite often made mashed potato patties with leftovers, after having added an egg, salt and pepper to the bowl of mashed potatoes, making thin patties and frying them in vegetable oil or even a bit of bacon drippings. It was one of my very favorite dishes.

Everything we made complemented our own selection of beef and pork, raised on the farm.

Another stand-by

Another good old stand-by that showed up quite often on the dinner tables of the 1950s and 1960s was Jell-O. Quite often, red Jell-O with fruit was our dessert.

Does anyone go to the trouble of making one dish that it seemed every mom used to make? It was always made with green Jell-O , and those of us who had been chosen to be the kitchen helpers on that particular day were expected to help grate very fine some carrots and cabbage to be added to the Jell-O, and placed in a long serving dish. Just before serving, a mixture of mayonnaise, a tiny bit of milk and a splash of sugar was stirred up and placed on top just like frosting on a cake.

Whether you liked this dish or not was beside the point, and no one really wanted to hear your opinion. We were expected to help make it and we were expected to help eat it.

To this day, I am not one bit fond of Jell-O .

My choice was the barn

When given a choice (and we rarely were given a choice on any matter), I would choose outside work helping Dad rather than staying in the house and helping our mother in the kitchen.

I tired very quickly of peeling and dicing and chopping and whipping, along with washing all of the dishes required to accomplish all of the cooking. While waiting for potatoes to boil, we were often sent on another task in another part of the house, with strict orders to return to the kitchen when the dusting or bed-making was completed.

Dad had infinitely more interesting things to do, and he had the patience of Job. Whether rock picking or fence checking or working with the cattle herd, Mother Nature always helped to keep the day interesting and entertaining.

The ceiling and walls of the kitchen simply could not compete.

No menu options

When it came time to sit down at the round table, we were always, always hungry. We had worked up an appetite. Never in a million years would we have considered grumbling about the food that appeared on the table.

Earth might have stopped spinning if we had ever found the nerve to ask for something else in place of the meal on our plate.

Rarely (like almost never) we were treated to a hamburger purchased at a diner. Dad ordered, and there were no variations. If you did not like pickles, just be quiet about it. We knew to be grateful for what was given to us in the way of food, drink and pretty much anything else for that matter.

A friend sent me via e-mail an actual menu from F.W. Woolworth Co. from the 1950s. Ham salad sandwiches cost 30 cents. A slice of pie cost 15 cents. The highest priced selection on the menu was a toasted triple decker chicken salad sandwich for 65 cents.

Malted milk was a quarter, and a banana split, made with three dippers of ice cream, also cost a quarter. Extra rich ice cream soda was also 25 cents. A king-sized Coca-Cola cost a dime.

Landing in this type of restaurant would have been heaven to us. Pure heaven.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

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