Saturday, March 6, 2010

White Trash Motherlode: Jell-o Squares



My 5th grade class was so enormous that we actually had two teachers, Mrs. Reed and Mrs. Black. There was another, smaller class also, with one lone teacher, but, as my older sister had told me years before, the lucky kids got Reed & Black. There were reasons for this.

First was the issue of sheer entertainment value. Mrs. Reed was a short, voluptuous redhead who loved to experiment with hairstyles and crazy outfits and gaudy make-up. We kids would arrive every morning, having no idea what kind of glitter-bombed treat was in store for us. Mrs. Reed would prance into class like some exotic bird, and our jaws would drop, awestruck. It was like La Cage Aux Folles, without the gays.

The second reason for the superiority of Reed & Black was the fact that both women were, in fact, incredibly nice human beings. They weren't yellers and they laughed easily and liked to have a little fun, which isn't a common trait in teachers of the 5th grade.

But the most compelling virtue of that classroom was that both teachers loved to eat. And they encouraged festivity. Every two months, the class of Reed & Black would have a group pow-wow. The important topic at hand? What to serve for Theme Lunch.

Theme Lunches were hoo-boy fun; we'd pick a theme, like Mexico Day or Italy Day or Barbecue Day and run with it. We'd decorate the room accordingly and enjoy a potluck lunch in keeping with the theme. Every two months, after we'd decided on a theme, letters went home, asking parents for contributions to the meal.

I don't think this kind of parent participation would fly nowadays, but in the late 70's, parents were game. Everyone, from tall to small, thought Theme Lunches were the bee's knees; I never heard anyone complain.

Every time Theme Lunches rolled around, Mrs. Reed would call me up to her desk a few days prior.

She'd smile her fuschia-lipped smile and bat her glittery eyelashes and pat her teased, bouffant bun, and say, "Sweetie? Would you please ask your Mama if she'd make those Jell-o squares? You know how much I love them."

Which made me pleased as punch. I was the only kid who got requests. And, let's face it, Mama's Jell-o Squares were rockin'. They didn't fall apart, or wobble precariously, or melt...even when packed in a Springtime lunchbox. They had a toothsome texture and were a staple around my house growing up.

In fact, Mama's Jell-o Squares were so popular that, when I had them in my lunch, kids would offer to trade me Chee-tos for them. Yeah. I know.

That whole 5th grade year, I was Mrs. Reed's Jell-o Square Pimp. I'd bring them to Theme Lunches and she'd shake her plump little rear in excitement. When the school year was almost finished, I was beckoned to her desk again.

"Sweetie," she said, batting her 4th of July eyes, "would your Mama part with that Jell-o square recipe? I'll just be so sad without them when you're gone."

The next day I came, recipe in hand. God forbid a girl deprive such a magnificent creature of her Crack Snack.

Mama's Jell-o Squares


5 tablespoons Knox gelatin
2 1/2 cups cold water
2 cups cold water
4 (3-oz) packages Jell-o
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup clear juice, such as white grape

Sprinkle gelatin over 2 1/2 cups cold water. Let dissolve.

Mix 2 cups cold water, packaged Jell-o and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and add softened gelatin and juice. Mix well.

Pour into a 9x13 inch pan and refrigerate overnight. Cut into blocks.

46 comments:

  1. All I could picture from your description (for whatever reason) was a hot Miss Frizzle!
    And now I want jell-o squares in the worst way.

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  2. Okay, I admit, I've never had Jello squares, but I think I know two small boys who would enjoy them.

    And I'm jealous of your 5th grade experience. My 5th grade teacher was balding (notable because she was a she) and was known for nodding off during our book reports.

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  3. Waaah! Now I'm feeling cheated. We never had Theme Lunches. Though I'm glad you did.

    Plus: those of us with summer birthdays had to all share one lame day at the end of the school year. So unspecial.

    (Oops, that's a new topic...clearly still carrying around some resentment about that!) ;)

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  4. I am so glad you had a dynamic teaching duo who wasn't afraid to shake things up...And I am gonna have to make those Jello squares for the middle son who happens to carry a deep affection for all things Jello, and who also happens to have a hollow leg...

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  5. my mom used to give me vienna sausages and canned fruit cocktail for lunch. it was my favorite lunch. love the jello recipe. thanks for sharing.

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  6. My gosh, TKW, how good can jello be? It can be requested by name by teeny, prancing Dolly Parton-type teachers? I'm impressed!

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  7. Oooh. These I will make. My girls adore jello. And so do I. And Husband grew up eating stripey and yummy jello squares, so this might be a way to impress the mother-in-law. It's a done deal!

    Cheers to you, "Jell-o Square Pimp"!

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  8. God bless those women who keep us in suspense about what they might look like next. They have pulled me through many a grey day. My 5th grade teacher was my scariest ever: a tall, thin, spinster with along grey hair and a threatening name: Miss Hammers! Tightwad Gazette lady, Amy, loved Jello squares as well, if I recall...though probably not with actual Jello mix. Extra gelatin, I'm sure that's the key. Great story!

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  9. I gotta agree with Corrine - Mrs. Frizzle is immediately what came to my mind too!

    My MIL makes Jello squares for my boys - but only during the holidays. The LOVE them! I've tried her recipe but can't seem to replicate. Your recipe seems a little easier than hers - so thanks for putting it out there:)

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  10. My aunt made kickass jello squares for holidays. I went through many many packets of jello with less and less water until she finally clued me into adding gelatin, but only after she saw the blue disaster I made trying to harden jello on a cookie sheet in the probably still blue freezer.
    jc

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  11. Loved this post! I haven't made jello squares in ages - and I have all the ingredients!!

    Hope you are having a great weekend!

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  12. Hmm. I wonder what a Latvian guest would make of Jell-o, in any sort of geometric exercise. Food for thought.

    :)

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  13. I love this character sketch of Mrs. Reed. Cool, you and Mama's jello squares rocked!

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  14. I'm guessing Jell-O Squares are a little different from Jell-O Shots (my only foray into the gelatin arena)?? Also, where can I get some of Mrs. Reed's glittery eyelashes?

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  15. The only thing I love more than a thick skin on top of pudding is a really toothsome jell-o geometric shape (partial to stars, myself). Too bad about the gelatin. Our vegan excuse for Jello uses agar and can't be made all thick and yummy like the Squares.
    Our co-op preschool does theme potlucks and everyone gets wicked into it. So there's hope for the future.

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  16. What a terrific story! I love the descriptions. What a relief to have such great teachers at that age.

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  17. I think it is awesome that you have such distinct memories from growing up. I would probably give myself a migraine if I tried to remember stuff in that much detail.

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  18. Confession: I have never, not even as a child, enjoyed the texture or flavor of Jello. Am I a mutant?

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  19. My daughter will love this one!

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  20. J. Harker, you should try these! They have a much firmer texture than regular Jell-o. I can't help you out with your aversion to the fake processed fruit flavor, however. And maybe you are a mutant, but you are of the benevolent variety.

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  21. Hi there, I am new to your blog. I stumbled your way through Kika's blog. I just wanted to say hello. I think your writing is fantastic. I loved your 5th grade story... and just for the record, I had a super cool 5th grade teacher as well. Getting into her class was an enviable feat!

    I look forward to reading more of your stuff!

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  22. Gads its nice to hear about some happy 5th grade memories. My 5th grade year was marked with....well, way to much drama. I think I will try these sugar free for Little Miss Sunbeam! Love the story, again!

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  23. I'm not sure I have ever seen anyone "shake their plump little rear in excitement." It made me laugh out loud...for real.

    And is it bad that I don't really like Jell-o? Especially the way it can sometimes get all weird and crusty like around the edges. Okay maybe not crusty but rubber-like.

    I always love the motherlode stories.

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  24. In my little world they were called Knox Blox and I LOVED them.

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  25. Anything delicious that I can also call an "activity" with Hannah gets a thumbs up with me. She'll love making them AND eating them! And I also loved picturing the plump little rear shaking with excitement. Made me giggle!

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  26. How fun! I'm glad you enjoyed your fifth grade year. Mine was full of black eyes and titty twisters...a total nightmare! I should have had therapy...or maybe just some of your mom's jell-o squares! :D

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  27. Are these the same as the famed Knox blox of my youth? Mmmmm.

    Also, finally a recipe I can make as written, without having to omit hot peppers or some other ingredient my newborn-babe-like palate can't handle.

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  28. Did their influence lead you to be an extreme glitter wearer too?!

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  29. Let it be known that the first recipe you have posted that I have heard and know of all the ingredients is, of course, jello. :)

    I'm gonna give this a try.

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  30. Do you have bugs planted in my house? We were just talking about these! Can't wait to make them...not my fave, but the kids love 'em!

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  31. I can totally picture Mrs. Reed - I love how you describe her!

    A mom in my 4-H club would make Finger Jello that sounds very similar to this. Very yummy. Plus, eating Jello with your hands? Incredible!

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  32. yummy! Do you make these for your girls?! Love the descriptions in this entry! xxx

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  33. Does this work for jello shots, too? Because I am not a jello person unless there is liquor involved. I know, I'm weird. Just never got into jello. Neither has my older daughter (maybe it's hereditary), but my younger daughter loves it (she's definitely her father's daughter).

    Love the 5th grade story, sounds like such a fun class!!

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  34. Oh, Kitch Witch...I am sad to admit that Hubby LOOOOVES all things jello, while, I, on the other hand, refer to it as "hospital food." Maybe if I'd been in your 5th grade class, things woulda turned out different....

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  35. I also would like to know can these be used for jello shots

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  36. Theme lunches sound like a grand idea! I'd like to think there were some teachers still willing to give it a shot. What a great learning experience from a cultural perspective. And, just a thought...does jello squares grow up into jello shots? Just a thought........ ;-)

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  37. My fourth grade experience was much like your 5th - and why I wanted to become a teacher. Mrs. Wood and Mrs. Blair. (Love you, ladies!)And jello squares - I've yet to try them. But I'm printing this recipe out right now as I type!

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  38. I love jello! This is a great recipe. Thanks for sharing!

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  39. WHAT? Jell-o squares = WHITE TRASH? Shame on you. The next thing you'll be saying is that casserole with chow mein noodles is all 80's and out of style.

    Oh wait, you already did...

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  40. OMG! LOL! Love this story! And I love that you called them snack crack!

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  41. I think loving some form of Jello truly signifies that you are a child of the seventies. I love, love, love my mothers jello mold. You actually melt vanilla ice cream into the mix. I'm telling ya, it's to die for. Not very culinary saavy, but everyone loves it. I don't think I have had it in a gazillion years. She did make it once for my twins and, god forbid, they did not care for it. I guess they are children of the 00's or however you'd say that!

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  42. Your fifth grade year sounds awesome. I've repressed mine. I can't wait to try these for the boys.

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  43. I am so, so jealous of your fifth-grade year--your teachers sounded AMAZING. Jello squares sound pretty good to me right now too. :)

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  44. We had red, heart shaped jello jigglers for the Valentine's Day party in fourth grade. And that is pretty much the the only detail I can remember about any elementary school holiday party.

    Can't WAIT to make these!!!!!

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  45. Thank You for the recipe!!!

    Susan

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