When I mention I'm making these vintage dishes, many seem to call up images of a 50's housewife with a pastel blue refrigerator, which houses a questionable salad even more questionably encased in green jiggling gelatin.
But one of the largest sources of recipes I have is a booklet published in 1930, which is old enough that names of ingredients can require some research before I feel confident sourcing them.
I've made a few recipes from this booklet in the past, and you might be surprised at the largest obstacle I've faced: the copy. At first, I thought perhaps this was an artifact of the time; when teaching linguistics, I've often used contemporary recipes as examples of a specific genre of writing (no, I'm not talking about that big long personal story at the top of the page...). But seeing instructions from other recipes from the time period put this theory to bed. Perhaps it's simply due to the fact that this is moreso promotional material rather than a traditionally published book, where an editor might have taken a second look and said "Uh, revisions needed". Take this excerpt from a recipe for Pineapple Souffle:
Remove from range, and add gelatine (which has soaked in water about five minutes) and pineapple. When mixture begins to thicken, add cream, beaten until stiff, and whites of eggs, beaten until stiff.
These "wait, what?" post-nominal clauses not only require you to work backwards, but are often paired with other instructions stripped of any helpful context; a custard recipe casually instructed me to just "slowly add hot milk and cook for a few minutes"...What, like tempering eggs is hard?
Speaking of difficulty...
Jellied Cider (or Fruit Juice)
As I've mentioned before, whipped gelatin(e) is a fairly simple way to fancy up a dessert. Keeping with the old-timey theme, I was determined to try out a recipe for Prune Whip, but both the 30's recipe, as well as a later one from the 70's, assumed you had actual, cooked prunes you were starting from. I'm Team No Pulp, and this is Too Easy Tuesday, so I switched instead to whipping up Jellied Cider or Fruit Juice. This last-minute change allowed me to also use the blackcurrant drink I found at my local fancy grocery store to complete the pair.
So, how was it? I've been told in the past that prune juice tastes similar to my caffeinated beverage of choice, which you may know as the only soda with a graduate degree. My dad also mentioned fond memories of eating candied prunes as a kid when I told him my jelly agenda for the week. The first taste wasn't bad, but after about three spoonfuls, I realized I was very unhappy. If you like prune juice, by all means, but otherwise I don't think this will be the dessert to win you over. Maybe a bread?
Thankfully the blackcurrant version passed muster, but the tartness was a bit much (nothing a generous topping of whipped cream couldn't fix). I plan on using up the rest of the drink with more cream-based recipes to better balance the acidity. The recipe below makes about 6 servings for the original, non-whipped version.
1 level tbsp Knox Gelatine
¼ cup cold water
½ cup boiling water
1¼ cup sweet cider or fruit juice
Soak gelatine in cold water about five minutes. Dissolve in boiling water and add cider or fruit juice; then add salt and sugar to taste. Pour into mold and chill. Unmold when firm.
(Optional: Chill gelatin until slightly thickened, and whip until roughly double in volume. Pour into glassware and chill. Serve without unmolding.)
Last week seems like a distant memory, but the trials and tribulations of making an Orange Cream Sherbet are fresh, not frozen. Photographing a dessert that can melt whilst in the dead of summer is stressful enough without dealing with the extra pressure of a recipe that assumes you're working with salted ice instead of a commercial freezer. There's not many frozen recipes to choose from, and nearly all are just various flavors of ice cream or sherbet. The sole remaining dessert that caught my eye had instructions twice as long as the others, so I made an executive decision to shunt it to the showcase.
While complaining to my parents about my troubles (do I make an 'icebox' cake? do I make an ice cream even though we still have plenty of sherbet? do I cancel Freezy Friday?), a lightbulb went on. Turkish Delight is one of the few recipes from this booklet I had experimented with in the past, and I had earmarked it as one of the more unusual ones. Of course, no freezing is required, but for those of us in the States, this candy is primarily known as "that stuff the White Witch gives Edmund in Narnia". So after spending way too much money on tablescaping, I set off candymaking...and promptly let my first batch of sugar boil over while distracted by something on TV. After cleaning the stovetop, the saucepan, the floor, myself, I started over, and successfully made some candy.
Would I recommend this recipe? I'm honestly not sure. Using gelatin to set the candy instead of relying on cooking sugar to the soft ball stage and carefully incorporating cornstarch likely IS easier, but it was still full of stressful stirring. (In case you were wondering, my sugar gelatin mixture topped out at 220F, 20 degrees short of soft ball.) The candy itself tastes...like candy, although despite my best efforts I couldn't get the nuts evenly distributed (they were determined to float on the surface). But most importantly, I've never had fresh, traditionally-made Turkish Delight before, so I have no baseline for comparison. I did, however, find other recipes on the internet that also used gelatin, so this candymaking hack (?) does still seem to be in use. The recipe with my notes in italics is below, but no guarantee on whether it can bewitch some kids to help you avoid a prophecy or not.
2 tbsp Knox Gelatine
½ cup cold water
½ cup boiling water
2 cups granulated sugar
Grated rind of one orange (if making rosewater flavor instead, omit)
Juice of one orange (approx. 4~5 tbsp) OR ~1 tbsp rosewater
Juice of one lemon (approx. 2~3 tbsp)
½ cup chopped nut meats (pistachios, walnuts, and hazelnuts seem common)
Soak gelatine in cold water about five minutes. Put sugar and boiling water in saucepan, bring to the boiling point, add soaked gelatine and let boil twenty minutes.
(Kelp tip: Use a bigger saucepan to help prevent boil-over, and keep constant watch! A silicone spatula is also handy here.)
Add flavorings and coloring, strain, add nut meats and turn into a bread pan (first dipped in cold water) to one inch in depth.
(Kelp tip: A greased mold can help, but lining the mold with wax paper is very helpful; just grab an exposed end and pull it free. Alternatively, use disposable loaf pans and just cut them away. Also, pour to a ½-inch depth for smaller candies. Refrigeration isn't mentioned, but I'd stick it in the fridge to set.)
Let stand until firm, remove to board, cut in cubes (with a knife dipped in hot water) and roll in powdered sugar. The nut meats may be omitted.
Vintage gelatin recipe checklist:
✓ No contemporary recipes for an equivalent
✓ Requires specific mold shape
✓ Flavor doesn't match appearance
✓ Mentions things out of order (if they are mentioned at all)
The concept here isn't so strange; it looks like a watermelon. Quite whimsical. But the components of the recipe (besides the use of raisins as seeds) are a little strange. First off, this is basically a frozen custard. I say 'basically' because it isn't a straight-up crème anglaise (a typical ice cream base), nor another recognizable type of custard. When my dad tried a slice post-photo shoot, I saw his brow furrow at the resulting texture.
Adding to the questionable nature of this dish, they recommend you flavor the pink portion with...vanilla. Of course, nothing's wrong with vanilla flavor, but for this particular application it seems an odd choice. To their credit, at the very end of the directions they mention offhandedly you could use their recipe for Raspberry Ice instead. By this point, you're already made, divided, flavored, colored, frozen, molded, and set custard. But you know, for next time.
This brings me to the green portion. The ingredients also list 'Almond Extract', with the recipe calling for both almond and vanilla to be used...OR pistachio. Pistachio flavoring exists, but unfortunately not in my local stores (even the fancy ones!). I resigned myself to using almond extract, but if making this yourself, feel free to experiment with other flavor combinations.
Lastly, the whole freezing and molding process was an ordeal, and this was with the modern convenience of a freezer. Part of the issue lies again with the custard(?) - it freezes okay, but it melts very fast, even on a chilled plate. Packing it evenly into the mold was a multi-step process, and even then you can see my attempts at a smooth and even 'rind' have been seriously compromised. Unmolding was even worse; my frostbitten fingers clutching onto a slippery mold dripping with melted green custard... Unsurprisingly, once I did manage to slide it out, any definition from the ridged mold had melted away, and I had to patch up a few spots with some leftovers.
But of course, the most important question to answer is: how does it taste? And it tastes good! I mean, it's frozen vanilla custard. I figured that aspect of it was failsafe. So would I make it again? Absolutely not. I look forward to using the copper melon mold I purchased just for this recipe to make literally anything else. Braver souls than I, see below.
(Makes 12 servings - I halved the recipe for my 2½ cup mold)
1 level tbsp Knox Gelatine
¼ cup cold water
1½ cup sugar
Few grains salt
1 pint (2 cups) hot milk
1 quart (4 cups) cream
Kelp tip: what is 'cream'? It's complicated! Here, probably any US 'heavy (whipping) cream' is fine, but I'm not sure I'd go lighter than that. Also, unsure if UK 'double cream' would work or if it's too high milkfat percentage-wise.
¼ cup Sultana raisins
Kelp tip: I went down the raisin rabbit hole so you don't have to. For US folks, this is normal raisins. Soak them in hot water for about five minutes before using
Soak gelatine in cold water about five minutes. Add sugar and salt to well beaten eggs (in a medium saucepan), and slowly add the hot milk.
Kelp tip: If you've never made custard before, please look up "how to temper eggs" for more details on the proper technique here...Knox thinks you got it handled.
Cook for a few minutes, and dissolve soaked gelatine in the hot custard.
Kelp tip: After I finished adding the milk, I brought the mixture back up to a simmer and let it cook for about five minutes (until it smelled custard-y) before taking it off the heat and adding the gelatine. Whisk for about two minutes to ensure it fully dissolves. Then pour into a heatproof container to cool (a big glass measuring cup will help with the next step, if you have one).
When cold (room temperature is likely fine), add one quart cream. Separate into two portions of one-third and two-thirds - to be frozen in two freezers. (Your one freezer should suffice.) Flavor the two thirds portion with vanilla (1~2 tsp) and color with pink coloring to match a ripe watermelon.
Kelp tip: I used a mixture of magenta, red, and purple food coloring to get a cool-toned deep pink. Have fun with color theory!
Flavor the one third portion with almond and vanilla or pistachio, and color with green coloring (adding some blue helps). When frozen, pack a melon mold (see picture above) with a layer of the green, making a wall at the bottom and sides of mold to the thickness of a melon rind, and fill with the pink portion to which add the raisins (first having soaked them in a tasty juice or hot water), placing the raisins to resemble the seeds of a melon.
Kelp tip: I recommend focusing just on the green 'rind' first, placing the mold back in the freezer to set up, and then working with the pink. I stuck the mold in a resealable freezer bag between stages.
Cover and seal tightly; pack in ice and salt (yay for freezers!) for three or four hours and unmold. When cream is frozen in one freezer, a portion of the frozen cream may be removed from the center, colored with any desired fruit juice or coloring, and put back in freezer. Let stand for an hour or so (don't.) and when ready to serve slide out on a platter and cut into slices. Raspberry Ice may be used for the pink portion.
Kelp tip: To unmold, prepare to get messy and frostbitten. Dip mold in warm water for approximately 15 seconds to melt the edges and loosen the dessert. I found gently pushing down one side of the dessert to 'scoop it out' to be more effective than flipping the mold upside down and tapping. You may need to let it re-freeze up a little after the ordeal. Cut with a knife dipped in warm water.
Phew, can you believe we're already less than a week away from Jelly July weekend? To help you prepare, I'll be switching gears and posting recipes for your weekend menu, from parfaits to... popcorn? Accordingly, I'll post the next journal entry early, so you can spend your Friday night setting up (your gelatin).
Join us for Jelly July on July 24th-25th for virtual panels, contests, and a jelly-themed party! For more info, check out the Jelly July page and follow Bay Area Kei on social media for updates. If you're making your own jellied creations, be sure to use the hashtag #jellyjuly and tag @bayareakei! If you want to follow along Kelp's Jelly Journey, follow her on Instagram @itskelp.