Admittedly my knowledge and experience of jellies and their moulds, or jello/gelatin is limited to the economical, trouble-free and efficient kind described by Peter Brears in the opening paragraph of his introduction to Jellies & Their Moulds, a compact, sexy book that fits well in the hand, was published in 2010 by Prospect Books of Devon and is distributed by The David Brown Book Co.
Miss Spurling, my beloved kindergarten teacher at Columbus Powell Elementary, introduced me the delights of jello, and I've had a fondness for it ever since, though in recent years it failed to excite me much. In fact, it repulsed me after I foundered on too much jello pie made by my step-mother.
She, the step-mother, was never evil. Sometimes a bit difficult to deal with the year I lived with her at age fifteen, but that's fodder for a different kind of blog. The jello pie filling was a mixture of lime jello and cool whip topping combined at some setting point, I've since forgotten which.
In my studies of food history and cookbooks I've seen this dish--not the jello pie--called aspic.
Aspic makes me shudder.
Watching the stars of Julie & Julia struggle as they suspend fish in gelatin gladdened me that I was born a half or quarter-century too late to add the aspic and gelatin skill set to my cooking repertoire.
But Brears changed my thinking about gelatin. Isn't that the most powerful goal an author hopes for?
In 1995 he was tapped, or maybe quivered is a better word, for a Jelly Festival in which he recreated jellies of medieval and Tudor England and so that is the origin of this book. Within its pages, you'll find historic recipes from 1390-1930 arranged chronologically, as are the very moulds they would be set into and set free from.
Reproduction pages from mould manufacturers' catalogs round out this book and may well excite those hobbyists who collect moulds.
If you didn't realize it, the basis of gelatin is animal collagen, so it would seem that one could, in fact, make human jello. Yech. There are vegetarian alternatives such as jellies moulded from hominy, rice, oatmeal, and semolina. Actually those are most appealing to me anyway. The semolina, rice, and cornflour are more moulded sweets of working class households and not so much categorized as jellies for obvious reasons. Eggs were too costly for cake baking and if working class households wanted pudding, or dessert as we call it in America, then they went for the sweet mould. But, in the 1830s these bland moulds were appropriate for middle and upperclass patients in the sickroom.
During WW II Britain lost a great deal of its gorgeous jellie moulds to... you guessed it, tin recycling!
There were lots of interesting jewels in Brears' book such as the packet jellies, such as the ones sold in most American grocery stores, won't stand up to real jellie mould recipes because they're weaker. And the plastic moulds used today don't release jellies as well because the jellies stick. Bears also provides excellent tips for release jellies from moulds alongside all the fascinating recipes within the book.
Really, what else can be said about a food that refracts light and wobbles? What's not to love?
Bibliography, general index, and a recipe index conclude the book.
This dear little book is a gem. I love running my hands over it. Its illustrations of moulds are black and white reproductions from period periodicals, by the way.
Copious notes appearing in the pages margins tickle fastidious readers such as myself.