Hot Jello: A classic backpacking recipe or a boiled-down nightmare?

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Sure, I ate Jell-O by the spoon, the way the universe and Kraft intended. But did you drink it from the cup before?

In the fall 1974 issue of Backpacker, a reader named George Williams of Keokuk, Iowa offered a classic mountaineering recipe he called “instant hit.” Our staff passed it on in awe. Could this sugary shortcut recipe be any good?

For a few months, we gave it away and mostly forgot about it. Next, our Pacific Crest Trail correspondent Patricia “Blackpacker” Cameron set out to try it out for herself. To our surprise, she agreed with the recipes presenter George: it was a success.

My fellow backpacker editors and I were shocked. By his voice, a hot Jell-O doesn’t necessarily make me drool. I assumed it would taste like boiled Gatorade and then somehow freeze in your stomach. But another part of me was curious as to whether this underdog recipe might actually contain something, like cheesy s’mores. I bought a few different flavors and started working in the kitchen.

Pour Jell-O into a glass. (Photo: Emma Vidt)

Surprisingly very good, assuming you get the right flavors. My favorites were blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. They take me back to my childhood, when Jell-O was a summer staple. This is all assuming you like sugar, of course: Although the flavors were inviting and nostalgic, the drink is so drunk and sugary that I felt like I needed to write a letter of apology to the dentist after my sip. The blueberry flavor was under two shades lower, but those strawberries and raspberries weren’t too bad. George’s recipe doesn’t say a serving number, but three cups is a ridiculous amount for one or two people. It was so sweet that I didn’t want more than one spooky one.

This is no deal, though; You can adjust the ratio of the Jell-O mix to water and find a solution to your taste. After a few rounds of super sweet flavors that left my cheeks aching, I’ve found that you can throw away a quarter or half of Jell-O powder and still make a delicious drink.

If alcohol is your thing, the blueberry and strawberry flavors were delicious with the addition of a shot of Fireball. Patricia also recommended flavoring blueberries with apple whiskey (get the recipe below). If you have a dehydrator, I recommend adding dried berries to make Jell-O sangria fruit.

There are some caveats. Never, for the love of all things gelatin, use Jell-O’s Vanilla Pudding Mix instead of the Fruity Mix. Just because it’s the same brand doesn’t mean you’ll get the same result. For some reason, I thought it would be like a creamy milkshake or eggnog. Instead, I found myself choking on one of the most dangerous things I’ve ever eaten. It didn’t mix well, and the vanilla was so dilute it was less like pudding and more like wallpaper paste while inhaling the air freshener. There is no recoverable.

All in all, this is something I’d be happy to try again. When I’m backpacking, I usually have some miso soup, hot chocolate, or hot Noon tea as a non-alcoholic appetizer before dinner. I thought my arsenal was too stacked up, but it turns out there’s always a little room for a Jell-O. Just not the vanilla pudding. never that.

Recipe: Patricia’s PCT Punch

Backpacker’s Pacific Crest Trail reporter Patricia “Blackpacker” Cameron recommends this gentle patience on cold nights. Makes 3 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 can blue raspberry jello mix
  • 3 oz. Jack Daniels Tennessee Apple Whiskey

directione:

  1. Boil 3 cups of water. Add the jelly mixture and stir until combined
  2. Divide the jelly mixture into three cups, add 1 ounce of whiskey to each, and enjoy.

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