Stumbling over the Great (taste) Divide

I dread being the bearer of bad news, especially in an uncertain economy, questionable employment gains and high allergen levels, but here it goes: Jell-O salad is dead.

I know, I know. I was as shaken as you are. I only recently realized this myself, which is why I wanted to be the first to tell you.

It all started when I made a Jell-O salad for Easter simply because my mother used to make it and her mother used to make it. It’s a lemon Jell-O with pineapple and bananas. The leftover pineapple juice is used to make a pudding layer for the top, which is then finished with a flourish of grated cheddar.

Our new son-in-law looked at the salad, asked what was in it, then polished off a piece. He said, “You know, that was strange, but good.” It was a smart summary on his part, especially since he is new to the family and has not yet passed his probation period.

I mentioned the strange but good Jell-O salad incident to a walking buddy and she concurred that gelatin salad has fallen from favor. It also reminded her of her favorite Jell-O salad, which she had not made in some time, a strawberry pretzel Jell-O salad. She basically said it is to die for. I cannot imagine dying for Jell-O salad, but she promptly whipped one up, brought it over, and I am reconsidering my previous stance.

There was a time when a Sunday dinner, pitch-in, picnic in the park or holiday gathering wasn’t complete without a Jell-O salad. My mother had an entire cookbook of gelatin salads. Perhaps Jell-O began falling from favor when women began putting stranger and stranger ingredients in it — carrots, cabbage, beets, green olives, Coke, ham, mayonnaise and corn. The yum factor took a nose dive.

I recently read a post by a food blogger who described herself as someone who “hates canned soup and Jell-O.” Yes dear, but you don’t have to get testy about it. Perhaps someone needs a little chocolate? She probably hates that, too.

In any case, meek and wobbly Jell-O may be joining the divisive food group. This is the food group that parts people like the Mason-Dixon line once did and like Barry Manilow still does. These are foods you love or detest with no in between. Mint: love it or hate it. Grapefruit: love it or hate it. Coconut is another that divides. You either love it or it tastes like hair. Sweet potatoes used to be an all-in or all-out, but they’ve been so touted lately that everybody is eating them, even people who used to gag at the sight of them.

Jell-O resurged for a time as jigglers and is still popular in some institutions of higher learning as a drinking game, but it would seem that the Jell-O salad in particular has faded from favor.

Then again, maybe I am wrong. Maybe the Jell-O salad isn’t dead. If it is dead though, this is what they should engrave on the headstone. “Strange, but good.”