Photos by Jenn Bakos
One day during my college years, I was helping a friend build a set for her play. She went to get a large wooden block (to serve as a chair, or a bed, or a desk—in college theater, blocks can be anything). She came back without the block.
“Where’s the block?”
“Bill Cosby is sitting on it.”
What?! It was so random, I thought she was joking. So I went to see for myself. I peeked through a little window in the door, and, lo and behold, there was Bill Cosby. Sitting on my block.
It was then that I was faced with the quandary every college student must face at one point or another: When Bill Cosby is sitting on your block, do you ask him to move?
The answer, I concluded, was decidedly no. You let him rest.
(I later found out that he was waiting in the wings for a talk he was about to give at the auditorium, so it wasn’t quite as random as it appeared at the time.)
Years later, when the manuscript for Hello, Jell-O! landed on my desk, my mind took me back to that day, to the vision of Bill Cosby sitting on a block, looking as though he could bust out with a hearty “JELLLLLLL-O JIGGLERS!” at any moment. And that’s the magic of Jell-O: it conjures memories from the past—not just mental associations of lovable spokespeople and goofy commercials, but also of simpler times when the only requirement for good food was that it was bright neon. (If you want to relive the magic, or just remind yourself that even Santa loves Jigglers, check out this old Bill Cosby Jell-O commercial here: http://bit.ly/z07Wbf.)
But Hello, Jell-O! was also something more. It was Jell-O reinvented for who I am today, with fresh ingredients (fruits, spices, teas), vegan options (agar-agar), and, ahem, champagne. The author, Victoria Belanger (aka the Jello Mold Mistress of Brooklyn), features recipes that take advantage of those nostalgic aspics of the fifties and Jell-O treats of the eighties, but with a modern wink that implies that only those who don’t take themselves too seriously can get seriously into gelatin. With suspended herb leaves and stained-glass effects, it’s hard to tell whether to eat these creations or display them at the MOMA. (And who says you have to choose?)
After acquiring the book, we had to figure out how to do a photo shoot with gelatin at center stage. Would we be able to capture the inner glow of the Jell-O with natural lighting? Would we be able to make clean, non-wobbly slices of the gelatin for picture-perfect pieces? How do you style . . . Jell-O? And (drumroll, please) would we be able to get that gelatinous lump successfully out of the mold?
The Petite Watermelons await their cover close-up
Luckily, the answers to these questions were: yes, yes, colorfully, and yes. (And if you’re wondering whether I taste-tested all the recipes, that answer would also be yes; the Raspberry Cosmos were incredible, and I’m planning on featuring them prominently at my next party.)
Step 1: Prop that Jell-O shot! Step 2: Stab that gelatin!
Months later, as we approach Hello, Jell-O!’s publication (February 28), I find myself wondering what Bill Cosby might think of these jiggly versions of Chai Tea Panna Cotta, Champagne and Strawberries, Hot Chile Chocolate, Root Beer Float Squares, and Cherry Cream molds shaped like Swedish Fish.
In my mind, he holds two bright yellow Jigglers stars over his eyes and exclaims (as he used to say in those Pudding Pops commercials): “Real Jell-O gelatin . . . only cooler!”
Propping the Cherry Cream mold, sashimi style
This book is not sponsored by, endorsed by, or affiliated in any way with JELL-O®. JELL-O is a registered trademark of Kraft Foods.
Can’t decide if you want to make the Cherry Cream mold or the Petite Watermelons first? Author Victoria Belanger told us her five favorite jello mold creations here. For recipes from Hello, Jell-O!, check out the excerpt below: