Georgia boasts its Vidalia onions, Texas touts its chili and Washington will be forever associated with apples. Add Massachusetts to the ever-growing list of states with official foods and beverages - Boston's home state now recognizes baked beans as its own.
Massachusetts Gov. William Weld recently signed into law a bill naming the concoction of navy beans steeped in molasses or maple syrup an official state food. The legislative action resulted from six months of lobbying by a class of suburban Beantown third-graders, who were tooting in triumph, so we're told.State foods and beverages are not all that uncommon. Besides the aforementioned, other official state foods range from Minnesota's blueberry muffins to Arkansas' pink tomatoes.
At least seven states have tabbed milk as their official state drink. And coffee milk - instant coffee, sugar and corn syrup stirred into milk - is the subject of not one but two different bills by Rhode Island legislators wanting to make it the state's own official beverage.
And then there's Idaho, which plugs its spuds as "Famous Potatoes" on its license plates.
What about Utah? State archive officials can't find any mention of an official state food or drink, although one would think to link honey with the Beehive State.
But ask your friends and neighbors - especially those who have lived here for any length of time - what they think Utah's state foodought to be, and you'll get a resounding response: Jell-O salad.
Not gelatin salad - the generic name just doesn't have that Utah sound to it. It's Jell-O salad - for a couple of reasons.
First, we don't mind those trademark names with multi-uppercase letters - heck, we do that when we name our young, as in LaVell, LaDawn, LeGrande, DeeMar, Da-Voe, DeLoy, MarLynn, Ron-Nell, RoyLene and ShirLee. Utah even boasts cities like La Verkin and La Sal and corporations like WordPerfect, so we have no problem with Jell-O.
Another reason: Utah as a state and Salt Lake City as a metropolitan market are the undisputed defending champs when it comes to the purchase and consumption of Jell-O brand gelatin, according to General Foods spokeswoman Lisa Van Riper. Not only has Utah long been tops in total Jell-O purchases, but our area is also No. 1 when it comes to buying lime-flavored Jell-O.
Van Riper also notes that General Foods test kitchens have concocted more than 2,000 Jell-O recipes to date. Chances are that each and every one of the 2,000 test salads have appeared at one time or another in Utah at a meal, picnic, family reunion or LDS ward activity. Nowhere but Utah could you be treated to dishes like Perfection Salad, Ribbon Salad, Cucumber-Cheese Ring or Grand-ma Walton's Lime Jell-O Salad on a regular basis.
Yessir, Jell-O salad is as much an institution in Utah as motherhood. Even "Lion House Recipes" - the cookbook hailing from that bastion of Mormon food-dom, the Lion House restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City - features not one, not two, but 11 different salad recipes calling for gelatin as an ingredient. Look it up - you'll find the likes of Strawberry-Blueberry Mold, Cucumber Set Salad and the well-loaded Lime Gelatin, Shrimp and Grapefruit Salad, just to name three.
Here's more testimonials to Utah's Jell-O salad tradition. The Utah State Society, a group of transplanted Utahns in Washington, D.C., celebrates Pioneer Day each July in the nation's capital. Tradition requires that picnic participants bring their favorite Utah-style Jell-O salad.
Why there was even the "First Annual Jell-O Salad Festival," sponsored by Utah Holiday magazine several years ago.
All we're lacking is an official decree, a state seal of approval, so to speak.
So, move over sea gull (state bird), elk (state animal), blue spruce (state tree), sego lily (state flower), allosaurus (state dinosaur) and bumblebee (state insect). As the saying goes, "There's always room for Jell-O."
And once we get the Legislature to recognize Jell-O salads as Utah's official state food, then we can pursue equally important matters . . . such as salt as the state spice, mosquito as the state pest, "You Bet" as the state saying and the jackrabbit as the state road kill.
Top 10 reasons to give Jell-O official status
A David Letterman-like Top 10 list of reasons why Utah should declare Jell-O salad its official state food:
10. OSHA-approved. Except for some slight shivering and quivering, Jell-O salads are earthquake-proof - and we're primed for plenty of quakes here along t he Wasatch Fault.
9. Kid-tested. Gelatin is easily digested by infants - and we've got a lot of those in Utah, too.
8. Oldy-moldy. If you've got to have a "mold" hiding in the back reaches of your refrigerator, wouldn't you prefer to have a gelatin mold instead of that other kind of mold?
7. Savor the flavor. Jell-O comes in 19 different flavors, including '93 newcomer watermelon. Past flavors gone bad include apple, salad, celery and cola - the latter least likely to succeed in a predominantly decaffeinated state like Utah.
6. Typical testimonials. If Salt Lake City really is a "Perry Como kind of town," as labeled by a Seattle writer, then Utah is a perfect fit for past and current Jell-O spokesmen Jack Benny, Andy Griffith and Bill Cosby.
5. Chameleon of cuisine. We're talking major culinary camouflage and adaptability advantages when it comes to Jell-O salads. Or why would you use lemon-flavored gelatin in the Blueberry Cream salad, strawberry-flavored gelatin in the Cranberry Relish recipe, orange-flavored gelatin in the Double Apple Salad or lime-flavored gelatin in the Cucumber-Cheese Ring?
4. Nonlethal side dish: Which would you trust to eat on a hot summer day - potato salad or Jell-O salad?Comment on this story
3. Ease and economy. For the average Utah family - large in number, tight on budget and short on time - Jell-O salads join the likes of macaroni and cheese and ramen noodles as quick-to-make staples of food-planning menus.
2. Basic building block. Gelatin is a culinary magnet of sorts - it attracts all sorts of additions, such as grated cheese, cottage cheese, cream cheese, sour cream, whipped cream, marshmallows and the whole gamut of fruits and juices. Chopped nuts are, of course, optional.
1. Socially safe. Jell-O salads don't pack the accompanying gastronomical side effects of some state foods such as baked beans and chili.