Rex Jelly container brings back sweet memories

A few months ago a group of friends and I had an early morning discussion about foods of bygone days that are impossible—or nearly impossible—to find now. When you can find them, the taste often isn’t the same.

The talk turned to preserves and soon one name emerged as a favorite jelly that we can’t find on our grocery shelves any more—Rex Jelly! 

I remember the bright red jelly sitting in gallon jars on the grocery shelves in my childhood years, but others remembered buying it in pails. Sure enough, a few days later my good friend, Don Allen, brought an old Rex Jelly bucket and gave it to me for our Country Store at the Drew County Museum.

Although the lid is a bit rusted, the dainty little metal pail remains in remarkable condition with its narrow blue-and-silver stripes and its little “bale” (metal handle). It stands nearly 4 3/4 inches high with a 4 1/4 diameter. The label reads “Sanitary Lined Pail, Rex Imitation Fruit Jelly”. It is said to be “composed of corn syrup, apple pectin, phosphoric acid and artificial coloring”. (Imitation jelly!!) As we reminisced about the luscious jelly, most of us didn’t remember a particular fruit flavor and had generally agreed it was made mostly of sugar, water and food coloring.  However, as you can see in the above ingredients list, the delectable jelly was more substantial than we thought, although I don’t recall a specific apple flavor. 

The petite bucket held 2 1/2 pounds of jelly and was manufactured by Corn Products Refining Co. It is a rare find and sought by collectors and others who well remember eating Rex Jelly when they were children with hot biscuits for breakfast (and often cold biscuits for other daily meals) and later carrying their lunches to school in the little emptied pails. This adorable little pail will be on display in the upcoming Country Store.  You should come see it!      .

As stated earlier, Rex Jelly was produced and marketed by the Corn Products Refining Company.  This company was begun in 1902 by E. T. Bedford. Its executive offices were in New York, but its manufacturing plant was near Chicago. The company still exists as Ingredion, Inc. and has plants worldwide that produce ingredients for a wide range of industries.

Some of its best known earlier food brand names include Argo corn starch (1908), Mazola (1911), Casco (in Canada in 1919), chocolate flavored BOSCO (1928), KARO (1938), Niagara starch (1947), and many, many other products as it spread worldwide into the industry it has become. (Best Foods was an early spinoff company.) 

It is thought that Rex Jelly came along in the late 1920s or early 1930s. The original Rex Jelly was sold in grocery stores from the 1930s through most of the late 1960’s until Smuckers, Knotts Farm and others swept the markets with their wide variety of flavors. 

However, Rex Jelly’s flavor was a unique fruit blend that is simulated but unmatched today. Its original “recipe” is listed above. Today’s Hostess Jelly Rolls have a similar flavor, but is much too “raspberry” flavored for true Rex Jelly fans. 

I am told that the following recipe yields nearly the same taste and similar jellies are sold at some roadside markets.  You might give it a try.  It’s good, but it’s not quite the same delectable flavor. 

Rex Jelly

2 pkgs. of raspberry Kool - aid

4 cups water

1 pkg of Sure-jell or any pectin

5 cups sugar

1 tsp. lemon juice [optional]

Mix Kool-aid, water, and Sure-jell. Bring to boil. Add sugar and optional lemon juice. Bring back to boil and boil at least 1 full minute. Skim off foam and pour into half pint jars and wipe tops off before you seal.

I also found this recipe that you might try with the “imitation” Rex Jelly.   

Rex Jelly Cake

1 cup margarine, softened

2 cups white sugar

4 eggs

3 cups self-rising flour

1 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups raspberry jelly


Directions:  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x13 inch pan.  In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Stir in the flour and milk, alternating so the dough does not become too stiff or too runny. Mix in vanilla. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes in the preheated oven, until the center springs back when pressed lightly. Spread the raspberry jelly over the cake while it is warm, but not hot, so it will soak into the cake.

You might give it a try! Be prepared though for the fact that this is nothing like Rex Jelly and Mama’s hot biscuits on a cold winter’s morn!

<p>This can, shown above, now sits in the “Country Store” of the Drew County Museum. The imitation fruit jelly became popular during the Great Depression and remained popular until the 1960’s.</p>


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