Jell-O salads — neatly chopped vegetables, canned or fresh fruits, and cubes of meat or fish encased in shiny gelatin shaped into decorative molds — have, as Laura Shapiro says in her book Perfection Salad, “congealed in the decorative mold of history.” The once-ubiquitous buffet staple owed its popularity to the invention of instant gelatin around the turn of the 20th century. Gelatin dishes had previously been relegated to the tables of the elite, requiring a time-consuming process of rendering collagen from animal bones and clarifying it.
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