Morbid Curiosity

Morbid Curiosity: Ham Rolls in Aspic

I went shopping for a couple of the ingredients I needed before starting this recipe. When I came home, my husband looked into my shopping bag: sliced ham and a package of Jell-O. “Nothing good can come of this,” he said, shaking his head. He was right. If only I had listened…

In this recipe, a cream cheese, horseradish, and relish mixture is spread over slices of ham, which are in turn rolled up and suspended in pineapple gelatin. There is no way around it: it tastes awful.

I know that ham and pineapple is a classic combination, but this is as far from a Hawaiian pizza as you can get. It’s almost like an avant garde art installation entitled How Not to Make Food. (Side note: Should I be selling tickets for this? Picture it… you step forward past the velvet rope, take a single bite of this dish, then weep at the existential horror of it. Fin.)

Everything about this recipe was all wrong. The texture. The taste. Everything. And meals like this inevitably end with my stomach staring sullenly at me while hissing, “This is why we can’t have nice things!” And then my stomach just continues to stare at me, because, really, what choice does it have (seeing as how my stomach inside of me and that is the only sort of view a stomach gets)? My stomach isn’t alone in these sentiments. My mouth also spends a good deal of time wondering why I put it through such ordeals week after week. I can’t blame either of them for their resentment.

As you can see from the picture below, I kind of made a mess of one of the corners as I was unmolding the ham rolls in aspic, but I take comfort in knowing that I wasn’t the one who ruined it. This recipe was hot mess long before I got to it.

Ham rolls in suspended in yellow gelatin, sitting on a white plate.
With apologies to my stomach.

Ham Rolls in Aspic
1 (3 oz.) package of pineapple jelly powder
1½ cups boiling water
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
1 (4 oz) package cream cheese
2 tablespoons pickle relish
1 (6 oz.) package of sliced cooked ham

Dissolve pineapple jelly powder in boiling water. Add vinegar, lemon juice, and salt. Pour jelly mixture into a 9½” x 5½” loaf pan to a depth of ½ inch. Chill this and remaining jelly mixture until syrupy.

In a small bowl, mix thoroughly the cream cheese, horseradish, and pickle relish. Spread 1 to 1½ tablespoons of cheese mixture on to each ham slice. Roll ham loosely, jelly roll fashion and fasten with toothpicks. Arrange in loaf pan so toothpicks are upright. Pour remaining jelly mixture over ham rolls; chill until firm. Remove toothpicks and unmold.

To unmold: Loosen edges with sharp knife. Dip pan in hot water for a few seconds or cover bottom of pan with hot, damp cloth.

The recipe featured in this post is from the Canada Packers Festive Feasting pamphlet. Date of publication not shown.

By Jen R. L. Disarray

Jen was once described as a "culinary anthropologist". She liked that. When she is not making questionable foods, Jen enjoys reading, sassing, and lurking all over the internet. Jen has a blog called Maybe We Shouldn't Be Eating This, and she is a contributor to the Geekquality podcast and blog.

26 replies on “Morbid Curiosity: Ham Rolls in Aspic”

A fun mental challenge might be to try to “fix” these horrendous recipes with substitutions of ingredients or techniques. Some of the past entries have lent themselves to this exercise, but for this one, I don’t even know. What could you possibly do to this concoction so that it retains its essential character but becomes something people would actually? I mean, you could make it without the pineapple Jell-O (stuffed ham rolls!) but that would be a totally different dish.

I wonder sometimes, when I get to the part with the actual recipe, why you include the directions. I like that they are there, it gives the posts a more scientific feel, like they are field notes from your anthropological study, but I always imagine someone reading your description and saying, “Oh, it can’t be THAT bad,” and then trying it themselves. It makes me smile.

I was telling my dad about this because the concept of ham rolls in pineapple gelatin was to horrible not to share, and he confessed that his mother/my grandmother was a jello fanatic, fanatical even in a time when gelatin was like the lentils of popular gastronomy. (The fact that my grandfather actually worked for the CEO of Jell-o might have had something to do with it.) One creation my dad remembers particularly well is a tomato aspic, served on a leaf of iceberg lettuce; he’d always recoil in horror when his mother served it. Of course, consumption of the aspic was not voluntary, or optional.


In Ukraine, there’s a dish called holodets, which is kind of like what you made only more awful.  It is usually fish, suspended in gelatin.  Not Jello.  Gelatin.  Like the stuff you scrape off the top of a can of wet dog food.

Ukrainians LOVE it, and I am probably doing an injustice to it by describing it this way, but holy smokes does it make my stomach turn.  I don’t think I ever met an American who could handle it.  Ukrainians, on the other hand, just insist that I need to try their grandmother’s version, and I will be sold.  I’ve tried everybody’s grandmother’s version.  I am not sold.

I must object.  I already replied to Cesy that my own beloved grandmother – may she rest in peace – made orange jello with carrots.  This was not her finest dish.

But as a Midwestern boy born and bred I must insist that things suspended in jello is an ancient and honorable tradition showcasing culinary skill and general prosperity. Macerated raspberries in jello is a marvel of modern deliciousness technology.  From pineapple in lime jello to those tiny little multi-colored marshmallows in any number of flavors of jello.  But the best, the BEST, was her “Seafoam Salad,” which combines lime jello, canned pears, and Cool Whip into the most wonderful delectation ever consumed by strapping Midwestern boys.

I was most fortunate when she left us to make jello salad for the angels to get her remaining stock of jello packets.  Flavors you’ve never heard of or seen: apricot, cranberry, cola!  I don’t care what you jattering jaybobs of jellotavism (with apologies to Spiro Agnew) say.  Jello Salad: lost art of wonder!

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