Hot Jell-O Drink: Classic Backpack Recipe or Cooked Nightmare?

Hot Jell-O Drink: Classic Backpack Recipe or Cooked Nightmare?

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Sure, you ate Jell-O with a spoon, the way the universe and Kraft intended. But have you ever drunk it out of a mug?

In our fall 1974 issue of Backpacker, a reader named George Williams of Keokuk, Iowa, submitted a classic mountaineering recipe that he called an “instant hit.” Our employees passed it around in fascination. Could this sweet, hacked recipe be any good?

We put it away for a few months and mostly forgot about it. Then our Pacific Crest Trail correspondent Patricia “Blackpacker” Cameron took the initiative to try it for herself. To our surprise, she agreed with recipe submitter George: It was a hit.

My fellow Backpacker editors and I were shocked. As it should be, hot Jell-O drink doesn’t necessarily make me drool. I assumed it would taste like cooked gatorade and then somehow solidify in your stomach. But another part of me was curious to see if this underdog recipe might help, such as: cheesy s’mores† I bought a few different flavors and got to work in the kitchen.

Pour the Jell-O Drink into a mug. (Photo: Emma Veidt)

Surprisingly, it’s actually pretty good, assuming you get the flavors right. My favorites were berry blue, strawberry and raspberry. They took me back to my childhood, when Jell-O was a summer staple. This, of course, assumes you like sugar: While the flavors were enticing and nostalgic, the drink is so syrupy and sugary that I felt like I had to write a letter of apology to my dentist after a few sips. The berry blue flavor was a few degrees less sticky, but that strawberry and raspberry wasn’t that bad. George’s recipe doesn’t state a serving size, but three cups is an absurd amount for one or two people. It was so sweet I wouldn’t want more than one mugful.

This isn’t a deal breaker, though; you could adjust the ratio of Jell-O mix to water and find a solution for your taste buds. After a few rounds of too-sweet flavors that hurt my cheeks, I found that you could nix a quarter or half of the Jell-O powder and still have a nice drink.

If alcohol is your thing, the berry blue and strawberry flavors were nice with a sprinkle of Fireball added. Patricia also recommended the berry blue flavor with apple whiskey (see recipe below). If you have a dehydrator, I recommend adding dried berries to make a fruity Jell-O sangria.

There are some caveats. For the love of gelatin, never use Jell-O’s vanilla pudding mix in place of the fruity mix. Just because it’s the same brand doesn’t mean you’ll get the same result. For some reason I thought it would be like a creamy backcountry milkshake or eggnog. Instead, I found myself choking on one of the grossest things I’ve ever eaten. It didn’t mix well and the vanilla was so thin that it looked less like pudding and more like sticking wallpaper paste while sniffing an air freshener. There is no redemption.

Overall, this is something I’d love to try again. When I’m backpacking, I usually slurp some miso soup, hot chocolate, or hot Nuun tea as a non-alcoholic aperitif before dinner. I thought my arsenal was pretty stacked, but it turns out there’s always room for a little Jell-O. Just no vanilla pudding. Never that.

Recipe: Patricia’s PCT Punch

Backpacker’s Pacific Crest Trail correspondent Patricia “Blackpacker” Cameron recommends this sweet sipper for chilly nights. Makes 3 servings


  • 1 box of blue raspberry Jello mix
  • 3 oz. Jack Daniels Tennessee Apple Whiskey

Travel directions:

  1. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add Jello mix and stir until combined
  2. Divide the Jello mixture into three cups, add 1 oz of whiskey to each and enjoy.