Jell-O products became a staple of many boomer households in the 1950s and ’60s. The company’s mixes were easy enough for kids to make and they were fun to eat. Plus, they constantly tinkered with new flavors and mixes to keep boomer children happy.
Powdered puddings — which were basically flavored corn starch — were available as far back as the 1600s, but these packaged foods required cooking. Jell-O introduced their instant pudding — just add milk — in the 1930s. For many boomers, this was their entry into cooking.
Looking to expand the Jell-O empire from gelatins and puddings, two new instant dessert mixes were introduced in the 1960s: Jell-O 1-2-3 and Whip ‘N Chill. Both required no cooking, so they were truly instant in the Space Age definition. Families embraced the idea of “Better Living Through Chemistry,” as the Dow Chemical Company used to advertise, so anything that carried the word “instant” was given serious consideration by consumers, despite having an unpronounceable ingredients list. Since the way had been paved by Tang, various companies jumped in with instant breakfast, instant oatmeal, instant mashed potatoes, revamped no-cook instant pudding and no-bake cheesecake mixes, too. It was all part of being modern, not to mention saving mom time in the kitchen — a prime advertising theme of the boomer era.
There was another factor involved, too. Families used to live close enough to one another in urban areas that extended families of aunts, cousins and grandmothers could often cook together. As a result, cooking knowledge and family recipes could be exchanged and more complex desserts were made, even when holidays weren’t approaching. Now that new boomer families were moving to the suburbs, moms found themselves alone in the kitchen. Mix in the beginning of moms returning to the workforce in the ’60s and ’70s and a ready-made market for anything instant became apparent.
Mister Boomer’s family didn’t eat dessert as a general rule; that was reserved for holiday meals. Nonetheless, there was a short window of a year or two in the early 1960s when Mister B’s mom was on a dessert kick. It may very well have been because of the instant mix availability, because when the family did have dessert, it was often a Jell-O gelatin or pudding.
Most of the time, Mister B’s sister served as the catalyst for new product purchases, so he believes it was Sister Boomer who convinced their father — the shopper-in-chief — to try Jell-O Whip ‘N Chill. It came in a variety of flavors, but to Sister Boomer, there could be only one: chocolate. Before Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published in 1961, “mousse” was pretty much unknown in the suburban boomer world. Now Jell-O, a trusted brand, was delivering an easy, instant “mousse-like” substance to the American boomer family masses without the fancy-schmancy French label.
As far as Mister B can recall, his family only had Whip ‘N Chill a few times. Mister B liked the sort-of malted milk chocolate taste, and, not knowing what a mousse was, found the texture was just OK. Sister Boomer liked it much more. Brother Boomer wasn’t one to get worked up over desserts — if it was available, he’d eat it, though he had been known to steal the hard skin off the top of pudding cups cooling in the refrigerator.
Mr. B does not recall whether his parents liked Whip ‘N Chill, so it’s hard to say whether they disliked it … or the cost being more than Jell-O pudding or gelatin was the deciding factor in not continuing to purchase the product.
The family’s encounter with Jell-O 1-2-3 was even shorter-lived than Whip ‘N Chill. This dessert mix was a late-comer to the party, being introduced in 1969. The idea was perfect to enthrall young children: an instant mix that separates into three layers as it cools. The bottom layer was Jell-O gelatin, the middle one was similar to Whip ‘N Chill and the top was a foamy concoction. The taste was unimpressive; the strawberry flavor could be described more as “red” than “strawberry.” Since by then Mister B and his siblings were in high school and college, the novelty of it wasn’t enough to bring it home.
What experiences did you have with Jell-O Whip ‘N Chill and Jell-O 1-2-3, boomers?