I’m more of a glutton than a foodie, more of a mad scientist than chef. But one thing’s for sure, I like to cook and eat. Let’s also agree on this: most kids like to play with their food. It’s fun to feel mashed potatoes oozing out between your clenched-fist fingers. Today we’re going to make something that is, technically, food, but is undoubtedly for playing: big Jell-O building blocks. Just pour Jell-o into some Mega Bloks, or any other oversized plastic building blocks, wait for it to cool, and Blam! Wiggly, fruity, edible building material, for an afternoon of fun.
Now, I used the word Jell-O so you would know what we were talking about. But I’d like to remind you, dear reader, that Jell-O is a brand name that’s become one of those genericized trademarks we talked about here. But, hold on! What is the weird gel stuff actually called? Was there any gelatinous dessert before there was Jello? Yes, there was. Its actually called gelatin dessert, and there have been many kinds of these “jellied” foods, both savory and sweet, since at least the Middle Ages.
Now, the main ingredient in all the gelatin desserts is, obviously, gelatin. I’m going to hazard a guess that most of you know what this substance is, but for those who might not have, at least, been vegan for a year in college, I’ll illuminate.
Food Spoiler Alert!*
Gelatin is made of animal byproducts like skin, hoofs, bones, and intestines. One traditional and common gel food, calf’s-foot jelly, was made from, yes, boiling calves’ feet into a thick, syrupy substance. That’s gross, people! Now, I understand that many people do not care where their food comes from. Many others just think that eating animals and their parts isn’t gross or wrong. That is totally fine. I am not here to judge you, carnivores. You can go ahead and stop reading, use Jell-o to complete this project, and be done. But follow me my intrepid vegans and vegetarians who are raising children in a meat-eating world, into the dark jungle of substitution experimentation! The following recipe is for what I think we should call Gel-O. It is an animal-product-free version of fruity, gelatinous dessert that I want you to pour into your children’s toys.
Recipe for Gel-O
4 tablespoons agar agar**
1 quart fruit juice
Bring ingredients to a boil. Simmer on low for five minutes. Pour into dishes (or blocks). Chill until cool and firm.
Some people find this gelatin-free version is soupier than Jell-o. If you have this challenge, I suggest using slightly less juice, or slightly more agar agar, than the recipe calls for. You can also buy vegan gel stuff, from places like here. As with any vegan replacement recipe, some messing around is required before you find the perfect balance. However, imagine the looks you’ll get when you show up to parties with colorful, jiggling shapes that everyone can eat. I have three words for you: plastic doll heads. (Although make sure the openings on whatever you use are big enough to slide the Gel-O out, or you’ll end up massacring your kiddo’s toys.) Once you can make vegan Gel-O, you cannot be stopped!
*I mean this information will reveal a secret about a food, but also that it may spoil that food for you, forever.
**A vegetarian gelatin substitute made from seaweed, available in most organic/natural grocery stores.