Do you remember eating finger Jello during your childhood? I loved the stuff, and despite the fact that my mother normally fed us healthy food, she seemed to think the benefits of Jello outweighed all the white refined sugar and food coloring it contained. We would regularly make finger Jello as a snack or treat, and on special occasions, particularly holidays, she would make a pretty layered dish with green Jello. This dish was eaten with relish by even the most sophisticated foodies in our lives during that time. One layer contained sliced pears in the green translucence, the other had cream cheese blended in, which made a dreamy pale green color. And my mother always added a few drops of peppermint extract, so the whole dish had a wonderfully light, minty taste.
Several decades passed by in which flavored, colored Jello did not make an appearance. But I did think fondly of it from time to time. Then I started making my own coconut milk yogurt, and found that natural, unflavored, unsweetened gelatin thickened my yogurt nicely. Seeing that creamy, slightly gelled thick yogurt got me thinking more and more about the beloved finger Jello of my childhood. On a side note, I have also been making bone broth regularly–not stock from leftover bones that you use as a soup base, but specifically broth from gelatinous bones that I order and buy from the local farmers market. It is quite gelatinous once it’s cooled, and I swear it has greatly improved my overall digestion and well being. (I will speak about all the virtues of bone broth in another posting.)
Sometimes, I forget to place my order for gelatinous bones, and the farmer sells out before I arrive at the market. This made me wonder if I could find an off-the-shelf product. Luckily, I quickly discovered a great product, Great Lakes Gelatin, derived from pastured animals. It comes in two forms, regular unflavored gelatin and “Collagen Hydrolysate.” Gelatin is an excellent source of protein, boasting 6 grams per tablespoon with zero carbohydrates. The hydrolyzed version is intended to help regulate your body’s metabolism by giving you pure protein that is easily absorbed by the body. (It can be used as a weight loss aid.) It’s the same collagen found naturally in the bones, skin and cartilage of animals, and is thought to lubricate joints and help build connective tissue. By age 25, our bodies begin losing the ability to repair supporting connective tissue (and we begin to see those annoying wrinkles forming). Natural gelatin is also chock full of amino acids like lysine, glycine and proline which the body needs to regulate cell function.
Growing up, my fingernails were as tough as, well, nails–the carpentry kind. I could pick things off, pull things apart, scrape things up and generally do anything with my fingernails without a chip or split. However, in recent years, I noticed my fingernails becoming more brittle. If I accidentally jammed one into the car door, the door won. If I picked a sticker off my kids’ dresser using my nails, one or two might chip a little, and my nails generally seemed thinner.
I report with glee that I’ve been using the natural gelatins for a couple of months now, and my nails are, once again, nearly indestructible! Of course, I’m also waiting to see if some of my wrinkles fade away, but that might be wishful thinking. I also expect my hair will grow thicker, although I might not notice it for some time.
I use the natural gelatin in the red container for making yogurt and finger “gello” or gelatin dessert, and I use the hydrolyzed version in my smoothies (it dissolves easily in cold water). I love that I can make something for me and my family that is fun to eat, feels like a dessert but yet contains no sugar except what’s naturally in fruits and their juices. And the possibilities are endless… I recently made coconut finger gello using my favorite coconut milk. It’s delicious with fresh berries on top.
Ingredients for basic “gello”
1/4 cup cold water
2 rounded tbsp natural gelatin*
1/4 cup hot water (near boiling)
1 1/2 cups fruit juice
1 cup berries or chopped fruit, such as pear
*Use more if you want your “gello” really firm and easily held in the hand
Arrange the cut fruit or berries on the bottom of an 8×8-inch pyrex or ceramic square pan.
In a medium bowl, pour in the cold water. Sprinkle the powdered gelatin evenly over the water and allow to “bloom” for about 10 minutes. Whisk in the hot water until all the gelatin is dissolved. Whisk in the juice. Pour the mixture over the fruit, cover the pan with plastic film wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours or until fully set. Cut into squares when ready to serve.
Coconut finger “gello” – Skip the fruit and juice and whisk in one can of coconut milk along with 1-2 tbsp maple syrup.
Pureed fruit “gello” – Puree fruit in a high-powered blender until smooth and use approximately 3 cups in place of the juice and chopped fruit. I used ripe persimmons (peeled and cored) from our tree!