You Had Me at 'Jell-O'


Chris Terry

When you think of Jell-O, are you more inclined to think "balloons and birthday cake" than "pink and throbbing"?

Is your idea of a Jell-O dessert more along the lines of, say, a domesticated "Bunny Fruit Mold" made from—among other ingredients—lime flavored gelatin, softened cream cheese, and jet-puffed Bunny Mallows marshmallows, or would you prefer the on-trend OMFG of a pyramid-shaped "Black Cherry & Prosecco Funeral Jelly" complete with a 24-carat gold tip?

If you saw your host holding a large tray of flaming Jell-O, would you call the fire department or ... give a rousing cheer, wait for the alcohol to die down, and dig in?

Do you believe it possible that "Aphrodisiac Jelly" is not an oxymoron?

Well ... Hello Jell-O!

It's new, it's blue, it's glow-in-the-dark, it's a bombe, it's a blast, it's historical, it's hysterical. Not to mention fantastical, flaming, and occasionally sexily funereal. In the words of bespoke Brit jellymongers and first-time authors Sam Bompas and Harry Parr, "Jelly rocks." Their just-published book is Jelly with Bompas & Parr (Pavilion, June 2010), and as the book's press release modestly puts it, "This is the book to make all your jelly dreams come true."

And you didn't even know you had jelly dreams! Who are these creators of jelly molds in the shape of St. Paul's Cathedral, the duo who hosted a Jell-O banquet for over 2,000 people, and the first people to ever record the sound of Jell-O wobbling? The New York Times calls Bompas & Parr "England's leading jelly artists." The Guardian just lets it go at "Culinary deviants."

Bompas (a future politician) and Parr (a former architecture student) joined forces in 2007 to, in their words, '"restore Jell-O to its culinary throne." Jell-O has had a long and illustrious history in England. And Henry VIII was one of its biggest fans. Who knew?

Sam and Harry, of course. "Jellies," they say, "make superb centrepieces. The Victorians used jellies to decorate their tables for dinner parties. As people jogged the table they would wobble entertainingly. There is arguably an erotic quality to the quiver. Once the other courses were finished the jellies were removed to a sideboard and served to the guests."

Who would not quiver at their gelatinous erudition? Or their innate understanding of today's social customs? I fell in love with them a year or so ago when I read what they had to say about wedding cakes: "All stodge and no fun." Wedding jellies are, they point out are, "kinder to the stomach after a heavy meal, so make it less likely for guests to fall asleep during the speeches!"


Chris Terry

These uber-creative, utterly original artist/authors have created a delicious new book, filled with dazzling photographs, Jell-O history and principles, and recipes that go from a simple Rhubarb and Rose Jell-O to a Sun-Coffee Jell-O that can be enhanced with a tobacco syrup. Never ones to stint on helpful hints, the authors include a headnote on this recipe that says: "Beware: the tobacco syrup will make the jelly tasty, but it could give you cancer."

Aside from the possibility of getting an award from the U.S. Surgeon General, Bompas & Parr were named "one of the 15 people who will define the future of arts in Britain." (Wouldn't it be "two"?)

And speaking of confusion, is it Jell-O or jelly? Ready? What we former colonists call Jell-O is referred to in Britain as jelly. Which is fine until you ask yourself, what is jam? According to The Septic's Companion, a British slang dictionary, the definition of jam is: "n jelly. Sort of. What Americans call 'jelly' (fruit preserve without fruity-bits in it), Brits still call jam. What Americans call 'Jell-O,' Brits call 'jelly.' Oh yes, and what Americans call "jam" is still also called jam in the U.K." Whereas jelly is: "n Jell-o. Gelatinous sweet desert. The Jell-o brand doesn't exist in the U.K." Wait! Why do they say "moulds" while we say "molds?"

Oh, never mind.

Don't you just know that Henry VIII and Queen Victoria would have adored Glow in the Dark Jell-O or a potent Sex On The Beach Jell-O, garnished with cocktail umbrellas?! So would Queen Latifah and Lady Gaga! There is one section of the book entitled "Weird & Wonderful" (Bompas & Parr being not only the masters of Jell-O but also the masters of the ampersand). I think it is fair to say that the entire book is weird and wonderful. Or to spin their wedding cake philosophy: all fun and no stodge. Wobble on!

Related post:
Jell-O Love: A Guide to Mormon Cuisine