As this week comes to a close in Le Roy, folks are still talking about all the fun things that happened during Le Roy’s first celebration of National Jell-O Week.
Plans for the event were a last minute idea of Lynne Belluscio, director of the Le Roy Historical Society and Village Historian, who also serves as the director of the world’s one and only Jell-O Museum.
For those people who aren’t acquainted with Jell-O history, Jell-O was introduced in LeRoy in 1897 by a carpenter, Pearle Bixby Wait. Belluscio is quick to point out, that Jell-O wasn’t really invented in Le Roy.
Dishing Up the Right Name
For hundreds of years, people had been making flavored gelatins, which were called “jellies” but in the 1800s, several gelatin products were developed and sold in stores. The names of these jellies weren’t too appetizing. Who would want to eat "Bromongelon," or "Tryphosa." Wait bought powdered gelatin, sugar, flavoring and coloring. Mixed it together and. according to the Wait family history, his wife, May, came up with the name: J E L L hyphen O – and it has to have the hyphen.
Wait didn’t patent his new product. He trademarked the name. For two years he tried to find interested customers to buy Jell-O but was discouraged.
In 1899, he sold the rights to Jell-O to a businessman in Le Roy, Orator Woodward for $450. By 1907, a year after Woodward died, Jell-O was a million dollar a year industry in Le Roy. And the rest is Jell-O history, which is on display, of course, at the Jell-O Gallery.
The history of National Jell-O Week began in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2001 when the students of Brigham Young University petitioned the state legislature to declare Jell-O the state food. The state legislature agreed and Jell-O became the official Utah State Snack. This is because the people of Utah consume more Jell-O than another other state, and for a curious reason, they also eat more lime Jell-O than any other state. (Iowans give them a run for their money though.*)
Celebration Time -- the Second Week in February
It seems that the students at Brigham Young decided that National Jell-O Week would be the second full week in February (and one declared nationwide was in 2009**). which in 2021 would be from Feb. 14 through the 21.
This year, the second week in Februaryt runs from the 14th to the 21st. As Belluscio explained, that posed a problem in Le Roy, because the plans included Jell-O week at the school, and school would be closed for Presidents’ Holiday, so she decided that Le Roy would jump the gun and start the celebration a week early.
Le Roy’s Jell-O Week included activities in the fourth-grade classes. Virtual tours of the Jell-O Gallery were organized by the Mrs. Bertrand, the technology coach at the school.
These tours were followed up with new Hands-On-History booklets written and printed by the Historical Society and given to each student in the fourth grade. All the teachers sported new Jell-O t-shirts for the week, and students performed several Jell-O science experiments.
Probably the most surprising experiment took place on Monday when student attempted to build structures that would survive an earthquake. The structures were built on a large plate of Jell-O and the “earthquake” would occur when the Jell-O was shaken. Much to their surprise, early the next morning, a 2.2 earthquake occurred just north of Le Roy in Byron!
Students at the high school participated in Jell-O box stacking and a variety of other challenges.
In the meantime, Jell-O Days were declared at the Le Roy Village Green nursing home.
On Thursday, Ruth Harvie, a former employee at the Jell-O Gallery, and a recent resident at the Village Green, was recognized for her dedication to America’s Most Famous Dessert, and was crowned the “Jell-O Queen” in a special coronation ceremony. Special Jell-O displays were installed at the nursing home and at the Woodward Memorial Library.
The D & R Depot had a special Jell-O dessert on the menu this week (and today's the last day to get it, according to restaurant co-owner Sean Valdes. It's a dark and delicious Mandarine orange treat***).
Vote for Your Favorite Flavor
Belluscio also initiated a “Vote for Your Favorite Flavor” campaign. Usually, several thousand visitors would come to the Jell-O Gallery and vote for their favorite flavor, but the museum has been closed most of the year because of the pandemic, so the Gallery is accepting votes through a variety of facebook sites.
Hundreds of votes have been cast, and the polls will remain open through Feb. 21, the last day of National Jell-O Week.
At this time, Belluscio reports that lime has a slight lead over cherry, followed by raspberry. The Gallery is also asking that people share their zip code, as if they had visited the Gallery. Each year, until 2020, the Gallery would record votes from almost all of the 50 states. This year, votes have been received from 40 of the 50 states -- including Hawaii.
The last part of Le Roy’s 2021 celebration has been the construction of the largest paper Jell-O Jigglers barn quilt. A 4 x 4 barn quilt, in a colorful pattern named Jell-O Jigglers, has been on display at the entrance of the Jell-O Gallery since 2011.
This unique pattern, was duplicated on the back page of the Le Roy Pennysaver this past week, and folks are instructed to color in the appropriate pieces and to drop off their quilt squares at the Le Roy House. All of the squares will be assembled into a large quilt and put on display at the Jell-O Gallery this year.
Belluscio also mentioned that a large 8-foot wooden barn quilt was painted last year, and when the weather allows, it will be placed on the Le Roy Town Highway garage on Asbury Road.
Plans for Le Roy’s National Jell-O Week in 2022 are already underway.
* / ** / ***(Editor's notes) (Plus here's a link to 36 old-school Jell-O recipes.)