In Utah, It's Good to Be Green (Jell-O)

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

While athletes at the 2002 Winter Olympics are going for the gold, their Utahan hosts will be going for the green.

That is, green as in lime Jell-O--the nonsponsoring, unofficial food of choice in the home of the Winter Olympics.

Salt Lake City is America's Jell-O-eating capital. Every man, woman and child in Salt Lake City buys two boxes of the stuff annually, or twice the national average, says Mary Jane Kinkade of Jell-O brand gelatin-maker Kraft Foods. Utah residents also eat twice as much lime Jell-O as anyone else on the planet.

Locals attribute their high Jell-O consumption to the large population of teetotaling Mormons and their compensating love of sweets. (Utahans are also champion consumers of ice cream, candy bars and marshmallows--including the miniature ones used in Jell-O molds).

In Utah, the classic lime Jell-O add-in is shredded carrots.

Sariah Hillam, 31, of Roosevelt, Utah, sometimes makes Jell-O with vegetable broth. "Jell-O is something kids will eat," explains the mother of three.

And since shelf-stable Jell-O powder keeps well, it is a staple of the food larders all good Mormons keep.

Hillam reports frequent Jell-O sightings at potlucks and church gatherings--but the dishes are rarely sweet. "There will be at least four or five kinds of Jell-O salads at any event," she says. Jell-O desserts are rare by comparison, Hillam says, which could explain the large sales of the salad-oriented lime flavor in Utah.

Local newspaper food editor Valerie Phillips traces lime's popularity to a single locally popular Jell-O salad featuring lime Jell-O, crushed pineapple, cottage cheese and whipped cream. "That's been a big favorite for a very, very long time," says Phillips of Salt Lake City's Deseret News, whose 1998 Jell-O cooking contest acknowledged lime's popularity with a separate "green" category.

"Ask a Mormon to bring a green salad and they will bring green Jell-O," adds local cookbook author Roger Salazar, whose humorous cookbook "No Man Knows My Pastries: The Secret Not Sacred Recipes of Sister Enid Christensen" (Signature Books, $8.95) includes a chart matching Jell-O molds to common Mormon social occasions.

Utahans don't just eat Jell-O. They also slide in it, sculpt with it and use it to decorate their clothes and buildings. The annual Jell-O slide, which involves sliming up in a Jell-O pit before diving headfirst onto a slick plastic slice, is a recruiting tool for Utah State University's Latter-day Saints Men's Assn., although organizer Bud Pace says just as many young women take part.

You won't find corned beef and cabbage or green beer at the Flanigan's Inn in Zion National Park on St. Patrick's Day. This Irish restaurant and inn instead celebrates the holiday with a lime Jell-O sculpting contest. Salt Lake City also has a vintage clothing store (Grunts and Postures) whose exterior is decorated with more than 100 vintage Jell-O molds.

And guess which of the hundreds of Olympic pin designs authorized by the 2002 Salt Lake Organizing Committee has proven to be the most popular? That's right, the one depicting a bowl of cubed lime gelatin. The pins are now only available on the collectors market and cost a cool $150 to $200 each.

Pin maker Aminco International's California-based executives were initially skeptical about the idea of a Jell-O pin. "We were worried that Utah would be embarrassed about being known as the Jell-O-eating capital of the world," Aminco Vice President David Hyman says. "But Utahans are very proud of it."

Hyman and his colleagues were amazed that the lime Jell-O pins and a subsequent one featuring lime Jell-O and shredded carrots were all snapped up in a matter of weeks.

Jell-O's grip on Utah slipped in 1999, when Kraft announced that Des Moines had wrestled the lead in Jell-O sales away from Salt Lake City. Acting out of state patriotism (and without telling Kraft), chef Scott Blackerby of Salt Lake's Bambara restaurant risked his upscale reputation by serving Jell-O desserts and holding a "Take Back the Title!" Jell-O recipe contest. "The more people experiment with their recipes, the more Jell-O gelatin they'll buy," he says. Thanks in part to Blackerby's efforts, Utah regained its Jell-O eating crown in early 2001. To celebrate, Jell-O spokesman Bill Cosby delivered a free comedy routine to a joint session of the Utah state Legislature, which responded by making Jell-O the state's official snack food (overriding the protests of one senator who said Jell-O has too much "wiggle jiggle" for such a straitlaced state).

As for the Olympic athletes, those who train at any of the three sports centers run by the U.S. Olympic Committee see gelatin on the cafeteria salad bar daily. The committee's food services manager, Terri Moreman, says she serves it as a comfort--rather than a performance--food, although the diet varieties are popular with athletes who need to watch their weight.

Sugar Free Jell-O's 1984 introduction was, in fact, accompanied by a public relations campaign featuring the Olympic medal-winning U.S. Women's Volleyball Team. Boxer Antonio Tarver, winner of a 1996 Olympic bronze medal, once credited diet Jell-O with keeping him a light heavyweight.

But no, sports fans, there is as yet no movement to make Jell-O sliding into an Olympic event.

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Carolyn Wyman is author of "Jell-O: A Biography," (Harvest/Harcourt, $15)

Under-the-Sea Salad

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 15 minutes plus 5 hours chilling

This classic lime Jell-O recipe dates back to the flavor's 1930s debut. From "The Joy of Jell-O Molds" (Better Homes and Gardens, $12.95).

1 (15 1/4-ounce) can pear halves in syrup, undrained

1 (3-ounce) package lime-flavored gelatin

1/4 teaspoon salt, optional

1 cup boiling water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 (3-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Salad greens, for serving, optional

Drain the pears, reserving 3/4 cup of the syrup. Dice the pears; set aside.

Place the gelatin and salt in a bowl and add the boiling water. Stir until completely dissolved, at least 2 minutes. Stir in the reserved syrup and the lemon juice. Pour 1 1/4 cups of the gelatin into an 8x4-inch loaf pan or 4-cup mold. Refrigerate until set but not firm, about 1 hour (it should stick to your finger when touched).

Gradually beat the remaining gelatin into the cream cheese with a wire whisk until smooth. Stir in the pears and cinnamon. Spoon over the gelatin layer in the pan.

Refrigerate until firm, 4 hours. Unmold. Serve on salad greens, if desired. Garnish as desired.

6 servings. Each serving: 196 calories; 120 mg sodium; 31 mg cholesterol; 10 grams fat; 6 grams saturated fat; 25 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 1.76 grams fiber.

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Mint Cream Dream

Active Work Time: 10 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 25 minutes plus 3 hours chilling

One of the gourmet Jell-O desserts once served at the New American bistro Bambara in Salt Lake City. From chef Scott Blackerby.

1 (3-ounce) package lime-flavored gelatin

3/4 cup sugar

Dash salt

1 cup boiling water

1 cup cold water

1 cup whipping cream

3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

Dark chocolate shavings, optional

Place the gelatin, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add the boiling water and stir until completely dissolved, at least 3 minutes. Stir in the cold water. Refrigerate until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.

Beat the whipping cream and peppermint extract with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Gently stir the cream mixture into the chilled gelatin until well blended.

Pour into molds, dessert glasses or a large glass dessert bowl. Refrigerate until set, 3 hours. Garnish with chocolate shavings, if desired.

6 servings. Each serving: 221 calories; 93 mg sodium; 27 mg cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 38 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0 fiber.

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Cucumber Molded Salad

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 15 minutes plus 5 1/2 hours chilling

Another lime Jell-O potluck favorite. From "The Joy of Jell-O Molds" (Better Homes and Gardens, $12.95).

2 (3-ounce) packages lime-flavored gelatin

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups boiling water

1 1/2 cups cold water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing

1/2 cup sour cream

1 1/2 cups chopped, seeded and peeled cucumbers

2 tablespoons minced onion

1 teaspoon fresh dill, minced

Place the gelatin and salt in a large bowl. Add the boiling water and stir until completely dissolved, 2 minutes. Stir in the cold water and lemon juice. Refrigerate until slightly thickened (it should have the consistency of unbeaten egg whites), about 1 1/4 hours.

Mix the mayonnaise and sour cream in a small bowl until well blended. Stir into the thickened gelatin. Refrigerate until thickened (a spoon drawn through leaves a definite impression), about 15 minutes. Stir in the cucumbers, onion and dill. Pour into a 5-cup mold.

Refrigerate until firm, 4 hours. Unmold. Garnish as desired.

10 servings. Each serving: 139 calories; 192 mg sodium; 8 mg cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 20 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.20 gram fiber.

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Lime Jell-O Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 15 minutes plus 5 hours chilling

The unofficial Jell-O mold of Utah. From "Jell-O: A Biography" (Harvest Books, $15).

1 (3-ounce) package lime-flavored gelatin

1 cup boiling water

1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained

1 cup cottage cheese

1/2 cup whipped cream or Cool Whip

1 (6-ounce) jar maraschino cherries, drained

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1 cup miniature marshmallows

Place the gelatin in a bowl, add the boiling water and stir until dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain the pineapple, reserving 1/2 cup of the syrup. Add that syrup to the gelatin. Chill until thickened but not set, about 1 hour.

Fold in the pineapple, cottage cheese, whipped cream, cherries, pecans and marshmallows. Pour into a 5-cup mold. Chill until set, at least 4 hours. Unmold onto a plate.

9 servings. Each serving: 180 calories; 126 mg sodium; 6 mg cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 33 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.83 gram fiber.

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