ACHS hosts Jell-O cook-off fundraiser Saturday, May 11

What could be more ubiquitous to the suburban Midwest than a family gathering with a nicely molded Jell-O salad? Did that sentence just conjure up memories of a plate (can you see the flower design?), likely decorated with a well-placed iceberg lettuce leaf, being triumphantly carried from the kitchen by the matriarch? Can you see the continuous jiggle of the creation and the fruit it might hold?

For more than a few of us, Jell-O salads hold a special place of pleasurable disdain in our hearts. The word “Jell-O” is a registered trademark of the Kraft Foods variety of gelatin desserts, or fruit flavored gels, puddings and no-bake cream pies. The brand began in 1897 in New York thanks to May and Pearle Bixby Wait who used the granulated sugar and gelatin mix that had been patented 50 years prior. This powdered form made dishes with gelatin much, much easier for general consumption.

Prior to this innovation, gelatin, a protein produced from collagen extracted from boiled bones, connective tissues and other animal products, took so much time to prepare that it rarely left the presence of royalty. Through an onslaught of marketing, Jell-O brand desserts took hold of the residential market in America. By the 1930s, the lime flavor had appeared, and with it recipes for salads containing cabbage and green peppers. This savory taste preference brought about additional flavors of celery, mixed vegetable and even tomato in the 1950s. The Jell-O family would continue to grow through the 1980s as additional fruit flavors were added, as well as puddings, cheesecake mixes and mousse. As sales waned, the Jiggler was introduced, and as they say, the rest is history.

The Anoka County Historical Society invites you to relive the glory days of Jell-O salads and family memories 1-4 p.m. Saturday, May 11, at the SBM Fire Station #3 in Blaine. During the event, you’ll have a chance to sample family recipes and vote on your favorite, play Jiggler toss, and even try your hand at naked Jell-O thumb wrestling. Do you have a recipe to share? Photos? Enter them in our cook-off. General admission tickets are $15, $25 per salad entry. More information is available at or by calling the museum.

Also at the event May 11 will be Jill Johnson, Jell-O historian and artist. Take a few minutes to help create a mural of Jell-O. Work together to make one terrific piece of art that will transform from dry powder into a glowing, colorful Jell-O mural that will be on display at the Anoka County Historical Society. An Anokan at heart, Johnson now works as a community cultural teacher and workshop presenter, Community Cultural artist, as well as a member of the teaching staff at Concordia College Language Villages in Bemidji. She has served as an independent curator/exhibition designer/judge/jurist and installation artist.

This event will raise funds for the historical society to maintain operations and preserve local history.

Rebecca Ebnet-Desens is the executive director of the Anoka County Historical Society.

Naked Jell-O  (thumb)  wrestling is one of the activities at the event

Naked Jell-O (thumb) wrestling is one of the activities at the event