We’re going to a picnic. It’s our turn for canasta club. Someone died. Mom’s making a Jell-O mold. Her double-lidded Tupperware mold’s on the counter. The one with the hole in the middle where she puts fresh fruit. Or Cool Whip. The Del Monte canned fruit cocktail goes inside – it floats there, suspended in mid-air. It looks easy, but it isn’t. I tried it. Put the fruit in one minute too soon and it sinks to the bottom, which is going to be the top. One minute too late? It goes to the actual bottom. And sits there.

Jell-O’s kind of a miracle. It starts out as a powder, but add boiling water and it’s a liquid; put it in the fridge and ta-da! It’s a wiggly, jiggly solid.

It’s time to recognize the healing power of Jell-O. Often overlooked on the list of comfort foods, when swallowing hurts or your stomach’s queasy, nothing’s better. What’s the go-to item hospitals serve up? The do-no-harm, sweet liquid in semi-solid, squishy form that slides down so easily almost every patient can not only swallow but also keep down? J-E-L-L-O.

Upset tummy? Croupy cough? Jell-O’s in every mom’s arsenal. Dieticians, too. My first encounter with the palliative powers of this powder-turned-liquid-turned-solid? At age 5, after a tonsillectomy, the almost-routine surgery that mysteriously went out with the Edsel. (Genius idea: major surgery to prevent kids’ colds.) What a horror story that was. The nightmare dawned with a nurse wielding a humongous hypodermic needle. I screamed and bucked until she called in reinforcements. Next thing I knew I woke up with a raw, “call-Ripley’s” sore throat. For days I ate Jell-O. Pretty much only Jell-O. Not the green or yellow stuff. Just red. Plain, nothing floating in it. I liked it as a warm drink, too.

Jell-O’s legendary powers show no signs of waning. When I became a Mom, it came to the rescue whenever one of the kids was sick. Now those kids give their kids Jell-O.

Jell-O molds make a come-back from time to time; in small town America and at PTA potlucks they never left. Having a retro party? Serve Mom’s blue ribbon winner.

Primary-color Jell-O cubes cheer sick rooms and brighten school lunches. Lovingly layered Jell-O salads offer solace at wakes. On a naughtier note, Jell-O shots liven up college parties.

Now there’s Simply Jell-O, a politically correct concoction with no artificial colorings or chemically-created content. The sugar-free version? Misses the whole point. Call me old-fashioned, but the risk of Jell-O-related deaths or disease is slim or none; stick with the original.

Jell-O’s Big Comeback: Better Than Chicken Soup? was last modified: by

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