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Jello

When is the last time you had… Jell-O? You should not miss this story about an 84-year-old librarian who is building a massive database of foods, recipes and techniques EVER published in European and American cookbooks.

It drove me to a cupboard of seldom-used things to retrieve a set of vintage molds that belonged to my husband’s grandmother. In 25 years of marriage, they’ve never been used, but they made their debut this weekend.

I can’t think of any living person who serves undisguised Jell-O, much less a mold. Can you? Do you? My father-in-law use to make a disgusting tomato aspic. Then there was Great Aunt Millie, who always volunteered to bring a salad at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Unlike the greens you and I think of, her idea of a salad was a Jell-O mold filled with diced celery or fruit.

My mother used to make a three-layer Jell-O salad at Thankgiving, and we all thought two layers of it were just To Die For. But that was then and this is now. She doesn’t make it anymore.

FramAnd then there are cocktails, the vintage drinks that seem to maintain their relevance no matter what. No one can decide exactly how old the cocktail is, but the word first appeared in print in 1806. Before its glamorous ascent in the 1950s, the cocktail didn’t have a place among respectable people. American hotels were among the first to introduce mixed drinks as a replacement for the afternoon tradition of tea. They were so interested in preserving the acceptability of a cocktail that they mixed them in teapot-shaped vessels.

If you watch Mad Men or know someone who worked in sales during the 1950s and 1960s, you’ll see that there is more truth than fiction in this want ad, which appeared in the New York Times in 1956. “Sales Manager: Intangible experience, must be able to move effectively at top management level and understand ‘Big Business’ problems. Should be able to handle twelve martinis.” Mercy.

Remember these lines from The Big Sleep?

STERNWOOD: How do you like your brandy, sir?

MARLOWE: In a glass.

STERNWOOD: I used to like mine with champagne. Champagne cold as Valley Forge and with about three ponies of brandy under it…I like to see people drink.

I’m afraid I can’t second that remark. A few people I love died because they couldn’t stop drinking, and there are far too many others who aren’t quite their best under the influence. In all honesty, I enjoy a glass of wine, but I regard all alcohol as a substance to be treated with the gravest caution.

My mother-in-law visits this weekend, and I think I’ll try something more exotic than Jell-O. Traditional panna cotta, perhaps? When is the last time you’ve used a mold for a recipe? What’s your favorite vintage food? Will it come out on your Thanksgiving table?

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.