Columnist

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

On a recent dive down the YouTube rabbit hole, I came across an interview with a 90-something woman from Appalachia who walks miles a day and has the limber knees of a rag doll.

“I eat Jell-O every night,” she said. Saying that, she was doing knee bends while perched on her chair – as compelling an endorsement of humble ol’ Jell-O as I’ve ever seen.

Jell-O and I go way back, to the ‘60s, when there was “always room for Jell-O” as the commercial told us, and more personally, always Jell-O in the fridge. Our mother would spike the Jell-O with fruit or carrots, squish it all up, and serve it in little dessert cups at dinner. It was a side dish, probably a way for her to sneak fruits and vegetables into our diets. The one time she told us that was what was for dessert, we revolted.

“Jell-O is the pre-dessert, not the real dessert,” we said as we waited for a piece of cake or a cookie.

So filled with Jell-O was my childhood, that by the time I got to college I couldn’t even look at a Jell-O shot – a way to sneak in some booze. Although I would look forward to a piece of pretzel Jell-O salad if someone else made it, I’d gone Jell-O-free for a good 40 years.

But that spry mountain woman might have been on to something. Could Jell-O hold a key to youthful knees? As it happened, around the same time of my YouTube foray, I read an article about the emerging popularity of collagen powder, the supplement that celebrities like Jennifer Anniston are pitching in commercials that show them jumping rope and doing yoga.

Turns out collagen is just a kind of protein, pretty much the same protein that’s in Jell-O. At least one nutritionist said our bodies can’t tell the difference between one protein and another. I extrapolated that to mean I should start eating Jell-O again.

In the Jell-O aisle, I learned that in the decades since I last ate it, Jell-O has expanded its flavors from red and orange to green and, most enticingly, blue, which I took to be raspberry. I tossed a couple boxes of each flavor into my cart. At home, as I read the instructions, I realized I’d never actually made Jell-O. In eschewing the wobbly treat, had I denied my own children youthful knees?

Boil water, dissolve the powder, add cold water, into the fridge. When I peeked in two hours later, the bowl of translucent blue goo wiggled at me. It was not quite ready yet.

I was right: the blue was raspberry, the same flavor of blue popsicles and slushies. I sliced my spoon into the glassy surface and unearthed a perfect oval of turquoise. It was sweet and cool as I squished it between my teeth. But something was missing.

Without the chopped apples and celery and carrots of my childhood, my Jell-O was empty. Just water and air and a bit of a berry flavor. I don’t think Jell-O was meant to stand alone; it was meant to carry other stuff.

My next batch would be different, and more reminiscent of all those childhood pre-desserts. While the water boiled, I chopped up apples, pears, a carrot, some celery and even some walnuts. This time the Jell-O would be cherry red, crunchy and lumpy.

Will it help my knees feel young? It’s too soon to tell. But I liked that it tasted like pre-dessert.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at cootiej@aol.com/.

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