In some circles, it is a well-known and boast-worthy fact that Utah has historically consumed more Jell-O per capita than any other state in the nation. This jiggling, fruity dessert made from horse hooves and artificial flavoring holds a special wobbling place in the heart of every Utahan, native or adopted. The love of Jell-O resonates so deeply that in 2001, when Utah narrowly beat out Iowa in annual Jell-O consumption, state officials elected Jell-O the official state snack and named Bill Cosby an honorary Utah citizen.
When my family relocated to Utah from New Brunswick, New Jersey, in the summer of 1998, we were unaware of the local gelatin affinity. Shiny yellow and blue Jell-O salads sat in our fridge vibrating their friendly "welcome to the neighborhood." We discovered the strange, almost otherworldly suspensions of savory items—shredded carrots, peas, and cubed ham—in gifts of Jell-O molds. And I, just shy of my thirteenth birthday, entered a new semester of junior high and a new culinary terrain.
Home economics was my first class. My teacher, who had an incredible ability to hide and forget multiple pencils in her stiff purple bouffant, stood in front of the class, introduced herself, and with a wide smile began the semester with this question: "Now, how many of your mothers have more than five recipes for Jell-O?" Almost everyone in the class raised their hands. "Now," she said, "tell me, how many of your mothers have more than 10 recipes for Jell-O?" I could hear the soft scrape of rising fabric behind me. Many of my classmates kept their hands high. Her excitement increased. "How many of your mothers have more than 15 recipes for Jell-O?" Her eyes gleamed and her smile widened at the response. "Twenty?" I turned around, and at least six or seven classmates with Jell-O-obsessed mothers beamed back.