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JELL-O + Birthday Cake

By March 6, 2019January 8th, 2020No Comments

Chocolate Birthday CakeWhen I sit down to write and nothing flows, I use food as a writing prompt. Things like…

Sparkling water.

Chocolate Chip Cookies.


Whatever it is, I ask myself, what does it bring up for me? When was the first time I ate/drank it? What is the history of this thing? Something always flows.

Cover of Jell-O Girls

My latest prompt wasn’t food exactly, it was the cover of a book – Allie Rowbottom’s Jell-O Girls. The book landed on my desk and right away a narrative began… when I first tasted Jell-O (at my neighbour’s)… why didn’t we have it at home? (my father banned it)… who invented it? (story to follow)… and why is there a doll trapped inside a Jell-O mould on the cover of the book? Is there a secret I should know?

There’s always a secret, even with something as seemingly simple as Jell-O. This is what the latest episode of The Food Podcast is all about.

Allie Rowbottom is the great great great niece of O.F. Woodward, the man who in 1899 bought the patent for Jell-O, and the man who sold it to General Foods for what would now be worth billions of dollars. Mr. Woodward’s money has supported his many descendants ever since. And with money, in this family especially, came privilege, misogyny, greed, love, hate, cocktails, and misunderstandings. The ingredients of a challenging life, and the makings of a good memoir.

It’s more than the Jell-O popsicles I ate at my best friend’s house when I was little. It’s more than hospital food. It’s more than a cherry-red mould. There are people behind this little packet of gelatine and sugar, and as we all know, where there are people, there are stories.

Enjoy the episode.

Have a listen here.
Find show notes here.

PS – Remember the disaster a few years ago when I tried to serve my eldest son a ‘grown-up cake’ for his thirteenth birthday? I share the story in this post, where my final words are: I will make him a kid cake forever. Below, please find evidence of this promise – a two tiered chocolate cake, topped with crushed M&M’s and HAPPY BIRTHDAY candles. I served it last week, and his fifteen year old self loved it. Thank you, Michelle Cleary, for the recipe.

PPS – Michelle would never have slapped the frosting on as I’ve done here. She would have piped it beautifully and topped it with sprinkles. Imagine it. Either way, slapped on or piped, her frosting is one of the best I’ve tasted.
The recipe is published in a cookbook she put together for Maple Tree, the Montessori school she owns and operates here in Halifax. You can’t get more kid-friendly than that.

Maple Tree Birthday Cake Frosting

8 ounces good semi-sweet chocolate
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about three minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy.

On low speed, add the chocolate to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don’t whip! Spread immediately on a cooled cake.