When was the last time you gave any thought to apricot Jell-o? Prior to finding a recipe for “apricot mold” among my late grandmother Jessie’s recently discovered recipes, I associated apricot Jell-o with a dorm-mate from the University of Chicago.
In my orientation week as a first-year student in the College there, a very bright young woman seemed to tell everyone in our “house” immediately that she liked to “take baths in apricot Jell-o!” Her name will not appear here, as she is now a lawyer and one can only surmise what could happen…. She either had just turned or was about to turn 16 years old – very bright and precocious. The apricot Jell-o reference was one many of us remembered. Another friend from our dorm actually wrote into the UChicago alumni magazine with this anecdote recently.
The University of Chicago figured prominently in Jessie’s life, as she lived in Hyde Park, where it is located, for many decades. Both her children went to the College, as did three of her grandchildren. As for apricots, Jessie relished apricots in desserts, e.g., her apricot strudel or the “mystery” dough, which I filled with apricot butter in tribute to her.
As for Jell-o, the link is a bit more tenuous. (Note my usage of the trademarked name with its hyphenated spelling; I really do not use other brands, so I will recognize this classic American dessert by its trademark.) I remember that Jessie often had boxes of Jell-o in her kitchen cabinets, where I was searching for packaged cookies she always had on hand. Jessie also had boxes of a whipped topping called “Dromedary,” which made me think of camels (of course!). But who wants to think of camels in conjunction with dessert?!? I do remember the occasional Jell-o mould at family dinners, though I do not seem to recall apricot.
Apricot Jell-o was not one of the oldest flavours for this dessert, I discovered in my research. I looked into whether it was still available, after not being able to scrounge up a box on a trip to Sidney, BC on big Vancouver Island yesterday – it really is an extremely big land mass. Two supermarkets there stocked many flavours except for this apricot. Had it been all used up in baths, by young lawyers-to-be, I wondered. So I decided to substitute its closest fruit substitute, peach, which actually debuted in 1907 – just a few years after Jessie’s birth – making it one of the oldest flavours.
For the dessert itself and the detailed recipe…
Wherever did you find all this information, you might be thinking just now, or, maybe you are wondering, why do you care? I received a wonderful birthday present nearly 10 years ago from a friend, Jell-o: A Biography, by Carolyn Wyman. You might know her as the author of SPAM: A Biography. While I do not use this superbly researched book often, it is entertaining, informative, and fascinating. For instance, peach was introduced in 1907, discontinued in 1930, and re-introduced in 1975, which was three years before the introduction of apricot. I also checked out the official Jell-o website to ensure that apricot Jell-o is, indeed, still available, in theory.
So the apricot flavour debut in 1978 makes me think this recipe dates from that time or later; however, there is the possibility that a competing brand, e.g., Royal, had apricot prior to then. It makes sense that this is a 1970s recipe, as Jell-o 1, 2, 3 was a big hit in those days: a self-separating layered preparation, which gave three layers from one easy-to-make box. Thus, Jell-o with a whipped dairy addition would have been a la mode back then (no, not with ice cream on top but fashionable).
As for the “apricot mold”, I found it super-quick and easy to make, especially with a stand mixer. However, a hand mixer or even an old rotary beater could work just as well. The “Pet milk” is another trade-marked name for evaporated milk, and I never knew that it could be whipped to soft-peak consistency of whipped cream!!
The dessert has a lighter-than-air chiffon-like texture, with just three ingredients: the Jell-o, evaporated milk, and mandarin oranges, which I am pretty sure Jessie used over the apricots. I had nutrition profiles for these three items, and I am happy to tell you that it makes a relatively low-calorie dessert of 160 calories per large serving. While I made an “apricot-free “apricot mold”, Jessie had a fun, refreshing, and subtle retro summer dessert recipe – one filled with history.
Apricot Mould, from Jessie’s recipe file
- 2 three-ounce boxes of Jell-o, apricot, if you can find it (peach is a good substitute)
- 1 18 oz. can of evaporated milk, refrigerated thoroughly
- 1 10 oz. can of mandarin oranges, in syrup or juice
- Spray a Bundt pan or other eight-cup mould with unflavoured cooking spray or oil lightly.
- Empty two packets of Jell-o bowl and add 1 cup boiling water, stirring thoroughly until all crystals have dissolved.
- Place Jell-o bowl (covered with plastic wrap or a plate) into fridge for 30 minutes or until the consistency is just thickening slightly, like raw egg whites (I let mine go a little more solid, and it made it harder to achieve the perfectly mixed ethereal texture that is this dish).
- Do something else for a half-hour!
- Near the end of the 30 minutes, take your chilled can of evaporated milk from fridge and whip in stand mixer, with whisk attachment, on high, until soft peaks form.
- Place mandarin orange segments in the bottom (which becomes the top of the mould, when inverted) in a decorative pattern.
- Switch beater to paddle, and use lowest setting to fold in thickened Jell-o.
- Pour the Jell-o mixture into the mould carefully, making sure not to move the oranges, if possible – spooning dollops can work well, alternatively.
- Refrigerate for at least three hours.
- Invert mould onto serving platter, garnish with mandarin orange slices, raspberries, mint leaves, or whatever else you like
- Think of the days when Jell-o moulds reigned and apricot flavour was easier to find.