Jell-O and other culinary delights #AtoZChallenge

J is for Jell-O and other culinary delights. Tenth of twenty-six posts in the April 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Endwell: My Elementary Years”— where my genealogy journey germinated. Wish me luck!

My elementary years in the late 1950s and early 1960s spanned a time when home cooking gave way to the first glimmers of fast food. Thus I went from homemade Jell-O to other culinary delights during my Endwell childhood.

Jell-O permutations

Jell-O had been a mainstay in the home kitchen since 1897. But as the 1960s dawned, there were new flavors and colors and various ways to prepare it — all of them embraced by my mother and maternal grandmother.

Jell-O salad recipes circa 1952. During my elementary years, Jell-O launched  new flavors, colors and various ways to prepare it — all of them embraced by my mother and maternal grandmother. Image: Pinterest

My mom favored red Jell-O with a can of fruit cocktail dumped into it — which would sink to the bottom in a colorful hodgepodge. I think she served it with whipped cream as a sort of dessert. There always seemed to be a bowl of it jiggling away in the fridge.

Boom, my grandmother, was a lime Jell-O connoisseur. She fixed it as a fruit salad with crushed pineapple at the bottom served with a dollop of mayonnaise. Sometimes she even used clear gelatin to make aspic with tomato juice — but we kids preferred sweet Jell-O.

Southern Tier spiedies

As a main dish, the signature local delight was spiedies (pronounced SPEE-dees) — still popular all over New York’s Sounthern Tier. One commercial purveyor of spiedies and the marinade to make them was Lupo’s Char Pit — which was walking/biking distance from my house and is still open today.

https://kaionegal.typepad.com/the_art_of_nothing/2010/07/lupos-spiedies-in-endicott-new-york.html
Lupo’s Char Pit, Endwell, N.Y. Photo: Cheryl Simpson/The Art of Nothing

Spiedies are basically marinaded meat chunks (you can soak them in Italian dressing in a pinch). They are cooked on a grill then pulled off their skewer by wrapping a slice of soft Italian bread around them (although Lupo’s serves them with a studier bun).

Even though Lupo’s was nearby, my mom and other mothers on the block made spiedies at home — soaking lamb, beef, pork or chicken in a big bowl of marinade in the fridge or on the counter.

https://kaionegal.typepad.com/the_art_of_nothing/2010/07/lupos-spiedies-in-endicott-new-york.html
Lupo’s spiedies: An Endwell culinary delight.. Photo: Cheryl Simpson/The Art of Nothing

What our moms didn’t know is that we kids loved them so much, we would sneak the meat cubes out of the savory liquid and eat them raw! At a street reunion last year some of us “kids,” now retired, laughed about surviving this experience.

Hot Pie: An Endicott specialty

Another quick meal for our growing family was Sicilian pizza — known locally in the Endwell area as “hot pie.” There were Italian bakeries all over Endicott, the next town over — and all of them served hot pie.

https://thecommunikey.com/the-great-endicott-pizza-debate/
Hot pie: An Endicott specialty. Photo: thecommunikey.com

My family often made round pizza from scratch at home. But in a a pinch, hot pie — always in a rectangular pan and mostly bread with a bit of pizza sauce and cheese — was a special treat.

Grover’s Pig Stand

My parents were frugal, so we seldom ate out at restaurants. But one that we sometimes went to for all things pork was Grover’s Pig Stand on Main Street.

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/189080884327229988/
Grover’s Pig Stand on Main Street in Endwell, N.Y. Photo: Pinterest

I remember the Pig Stand having sandwiches and French fries, which must have been affordable.

And nearby was the local distributor of Charles Chips — the fancy, perfectly cooked chips that were sold for pickup or delivery in beige and brown tins that I think might have been refillable. I loved to eat them with a cold glass of milk while watching TV.

Ad for the Endwell Carvel store. Source: Endicott Daily Bulletin, March 4, 1955

Carvel for dessert

One store we did frequent was the local Carvel up the block from the Pig Stand. Once in a while we should stop for a soft ice cream cones.

But usually it was to pick up a package of Flying Saucer® ice cream sandwiches — those large chocolate cookies stuffed with chocolate or vanilla ice cream — to put in our big freezer in the garage.

We seemed to always have a package on hand — especially in the summer — and the trick was to let the sandwich thaw slightly so the cookie mixed in with the ice cream as you ate it.

Yum! They truly were “out of this world” — just as Carvel promised.

Up next: K is for KDKA and radio mania. Please stop back! 

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18 thoughts on “Jell-O and other culinary delights #AtoZChallenge”

  1. Hubby likes to make jello today, but all plain. The granddaughters look forward to checking the fridge for Pops jello, as mom calls it junk snd doesn’t make. I could never eat it with mayo or eggs in it… yikes! Seems like I remember people making it with salad like fixings years ago but I never ate. I laughed at Hot Pie… never heard pizza called that but it fits it’s name! There was a man on my st who drive and delivered Charles Chips so I remember that name well! Fun read!

  2. My grandmother was fond of various jello concoctions. One recipe she often made used the lime flavor with mayonnaise and canned fruit resulting in a pastel green color that seemed to glow in the dark. I have many of her original recipes neatly handwritten on index cards, sometimes with the names of a friend or the occasion where she first sampled it. All kept in a cedar file box overstuffed with cards and clippings. A real treasure chest.

  3. What creative ways to use Jello or Jelly as we call it downunder. I enjoyed my trip seeing the culinary delights of sixties in the US.

    Even today when we visit the I am surprised at the some of the regional food offerings – so foreign to me.

  4. I enjoyed reading your food memories. Jello is jelly to us in the UK and it was a staple dessert for Sunday tea and for birthday parties. My mother used to whisk nearly set jelly with evaporated milk which we all called “fluff”. Similarly to you, I can never remember in the 1950s going out for a meal in our home town – it was not something we did.

  5. My grandmother thought it wasn’t a meal unless there was a jello salad. I have her “Joys of Jell-O” recipe book.
    And YES – I remember how getting a hamburger from Whataburger was such a treat. As a kid, I thought it was “water burger.”

    1. I think that was the general opinion of mothers and grandmothers then — all of them looking for shortcut recipes to make homemaking easier.

  6. You’ve made me crave a Spiedie. We grew up with Jell-o all the time. I don’t think there was a Jell-o-less family party while I was growing up. Now it’s vanished, though they do sell very fancy Jell-o in Japan still.

    I loved reading these food memories.

    1. Thanks, Susan. I included the Italian dressing workaround in case you want to try making spiedies at home. You can also order Lupo’s marinade online — some of my former schoolmates tell me they order it by the case.

  7. I still have some of the recipes that we got in “home ec” (there was never any “ec,” just the home–cooking, sewing, etc.). A jello dessert/salad is among them. Nice trip down memory lane.

    In the category of very early memories: It is part of our family lore that our Great Aunt Fifi’s restaurant — North Page Avenue Bar & Grill — was the first place that served speidies in the US. That might be a bit of hyperbole, but I recall a man we called “Boots” cooking the speidies on a grill outside the restaurant. For 25c, he would hand us a skewer with the cubes of meat and a slice of Battaglini bread on the end of the skewer. You ate the speidie while standing outside the restaurant and then handed the skewer back to him. I suspect it got reloaded for a future customer.

    1. Hey Kathy! So nice to have another former Endwell resident on board 🙂 I totally forgot about the piece of bread stabbed onto the end of the skewer! And yes, Battaglini bread — they also had excellent hot pie, if I remember correctly.

  8. Oh man! I haven’t had breakfast yet and now I’m REALLY hungry!! Lots of remembered stuff here. My favorite fast food places in the ’50s were the Doggie Diner (I love hot dogs!), and Mel’s Drive In. Mel’s was the perfect destination after church youth group meetings on Sunday evenings for hamburgers, fries, and a shake. Pizza places were just becoming popular too and there was a good one right next to a peewee golf course we teenagers used to frequent. Fun times, and great memories! 🙂

    1. Amazing how the food memories linger. I always have spiedies when I am in Endwell and I am right back in childhood when I eat them. We eventually had a Henry’s Hamburgers — but that was later, when I was in high school. Your Doggie Diner sounds like the hot dog equivalent!

  9. Wow that jello craze is going back a bit eh? My mom too made jello desserts in the 50s with a can of fruit salad. Most of our vegetables and fruit came in cans except the few vegs my parents could grow in our stoney yard. My Grampa made a mean tomato aspic tho, and my brother made that sane recipe at special holidays.

    1. Funny about the canned vegetables. I bought several cans of green beans and spinach at the start of the C19 quarantine in case fresh veg became scarce. My mom used to stock up on canned veg in our basement so we would have food in the event of a nuclear attack. Ah, the 1950s — maybe they prepared us for what we are going through today.

  10. Jello was definitely a big thing in the sixties and seventies. I had plenty while growing up although have hardly eaten it as an adult. We didn’t have a Carvel but I loved the ice cream sandwiches from Dairy Queen. Yum! Weekends In Maine

    1. I think there were “ice cream territories” — so you either got a Dairy Queen or a Carvel. After I left home and had my first apartment, I used to make red Jell-O with fruit cocktail once in a while as a walk down memory lane 🙂

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