One would think the dark ages were a dark time… Reading books like Umberto Eco’s ‘In the name of the Rose’ certainly leads us to believe that it was.
But the fact is that there was a love for bright colors that can be witnessed in the illuminated manuscripts from that time. On the table brightly colored layered jellies were made by boiling pig’s or cow’s feet into gelatin. It must have taken the cook hours to prepare, deriving the colors from blood, berries, vegetables and Essex saffron, the jellies were decorated and scented as magnificent displays of the cooks talent.
Jellies weren’t the desserts as we know them now, they would be savoury rather than sweet most of the time, sometimes even encasing whole fish for a dramatic effect.
Gelee of fleshe -meat jelly- was a traditional Medieval dish and made by cooking pigs trotters and ears, calf’s feet and chicken in white wine. The jus and fat would then be reduced until it formed a jelly and the meat served with it.
We still have meat jellies today in the form of ‘aspics’, covering pieces of meat, vegetables and sometimes eggs with gelatine made from beef bones.
In culinary school, where we are taught the classic French cuisine we had to prepare a seafood jelly which was a terrible waste of perfect seafood and we also used jelly to decorate meat and fish with delicately sliced vegetables to then lightly cover it in gelatine to protect it from the air. Perfect for when you are preparing a buffet but a little old fashioned if you ask me.
But it is very fascinating to think of it, that a medieval practice of encasing foods in jelly is still widely used today, centuries later. Now the sweet jellies are most popular, in bold colors and fun flavours and shapes, it is still a showstopper on your table as much as it was in the Middle ages.
That showstopper effect was exactly what I had in mind when I bought a vintage jelly mould in a charity shop in Sherborne, a Dorset village that has remained unspoiled by time.
The mould quickly got a life of its own being baptised ‘The Sherborne Mould’ by two charming ladies of the village, enquiries about its use are being made and pictures of the finished product requested. I was glad to see I’m not the only one getting excited about a jelly mould, happiness can be found in the small things you discover in charity shops.
When I write this I’m getting ready to drive off to the – hopefully sunny – south of England. I will be on the hunt for stories and at the same time giving my husband the quality time he deserves. I’ve been a bit absent of late because of the exciting things happening in my life because of this blog. I’m so thankful we are both creative minds and always pursuing our dreams through our creative work. We understand those moments when your inspiration comes and all you can really do is create. Time starts flying as hours become minutes and suddenly you find yourself having to turn on a light because you’re trying to write, or draw in the dusk.
I’ve been working on a project for months and now I feel I should tell you about what I’ve taken on, a project that will take me ages to complete to the level I want it to reach. Yes it is a book, my book, my life’s work.
A celebration of British culinary history, lovingly painted by my warm feelings for Britain.
For this jelly I am using the vegetarian version of gelatine namely Agar agar, it is made from a kind of seaweed.
What do you need
- 400 ml water
- 2 packs of Agar-agar (vegetarian gelatine)
- 2 tablespoons of caster sugar
- 150 ml Dandelion and Burdock, if you can’t find it, why not use Pimms!
- 1 teaspoon of beetroot juice (for color)
- Mixed berries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries
- Rinse your jelly mould under water and put it in the freezer, this will make the jelly set faster and make it easier to remove from the mould.
- Warm the water in a saucepan and add the Agar-agar, stir well so the powder is completely dissolved. Bring to a gentle boil then add the Dandelion and burdock and beetroot juice and let the mixture bubble for a further minute. Leave to stand for a few minutes before pouring the mixture into the mould
- Take your jelly mould out of the freezer, add fruit if you like and pour the jelly mixture into the mould.
- Leave it to set, in the fridge if you like but it can just as easily set out of the fridge.
- To get the jelly out of the mould, prepare a basin with hot water and dip the mould in it to release the bottom part.
- Turn out over a plate and decorate as you like.