Yes, JELL-O. Not gelatin, but JELL-O. Sure, gelatin may be more, er…”authentic” as the basis of a gelatin dessert, but store-bought JELL-O has distinct advantages when you’re feeling a) lazy and b) silly. First, it’s fast. Just add one cup of boiling water, then one cup of ice water and you’re off to the races. Next, you don’t need to worry about soft, fall-apart molds, since JELLO-O contains a pre-measured amount of industrial strength, animal-derived gelatin. Lastly, it’s clear. Sure it’s possible to make all kinds of fancy flavored gelatin desserts using fresh fruit juices and such, but unless you’re using bottled apple or grape juice, your base won’t be as crystal clear as the straight packaged stuff (and that can be important when you’re, say, making a giant wiggly fruit ring mold…you want to be able to perceive every delicious, gelatin-suspended texture). Another drawback of fresh fruit juices is they tend to be acidic, and acid weakens gelatin structures for reasons I will describe in near-painful detail later.

But there’s nothing stopping you from adding a little custom flavoring if you want to, just for kicks. A drop of vanilla extract works wonders in strawberry JELL-O. Almond extract goes perfectly with cherry. So you see there are many ways to doctor the standard stuff up if you really have a mind to. But more on that later.

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