Okay, it is silly. I come from the Upper Midwest - the land of Jell-O salads. No family dinner is complete without Jell-O, preferably with fruit in it. Pears go in red or green Jell-O, mandarin oranges in orange Jell-O. It's a ritual here.
So, why should I be afraid of historic gelatins? I'm just afraid of them not setting up. It's a chemical process, and chemical processes scare me in general. But I've learned to be fearless, so I decided to make some sort of jelly.
I had plenty of resources and recipes - calves feet jellies, aspics, wine jellies. You'll be relieved to know that I avoided Eliza Leslie (for once) and went with Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery.
The Challenge: Fear Factor
The Recipe: Extremely Good Strawberry Blanc-Mange from Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery (found on Google Books)
The Year/Date and Region: 1868, England
How Did You Make It: As always, I halved the recipe. First, I mascerated the strawberries with some sugar and let them sit to get juicy. After a couple hours I came back and mashed them through a sieve. After struggling to find the right tool for this (potato masher? meat tenderizer? wooden spoon?) I used the bottom of a glass jar. Necessity is the mother of invention, right?
Now, I have to come clean. I semi-cheated. The recipe calls for isinglass, and try as I might, I couldn't find any brewing supply store in the area to buy isinglass. I did not want to mess with carrageenan, which was also used in the 1860s to jellify things. The only other period option I was left with was boiling calves' feet to extract the gelatin, and I didn't think my neighbors in my apartment building would appreciate it. So, I went with powdered unflavored gelatin. Despite the fact that it wasn't available in the 1860s, and wasn't called for in the recipe, it's still similar chemically to the gelatin from calves' feet.
Anyway, where was I? Gelatin. Mixing gelatin with milk makes it look pretty gross.
But, mixing it in with the strawberries was SO pretty.
I poured the mixture into some little copper molds and put them in the fridge to set up overnight. When I woke up in the morning, they were all set! VICTORY! I dipped one in hot water and turned it out onto a plate. So very, very pretty. It was very firm (I may have overdone it with the gelatin in my nervousness).
Time to Complete: Less than half an hour, plus overnight to set and the time the berries spent sitting in sugar.
Total Cost: I didn't really keep good track of this. More than $5, less than $10.
How Successful Was It?: VERY. Imagine strawberries and cream, but in gelatin form. I taste-tested it on two people: my boss, who enjoyed it very much, and the Gentleman Friend, who also enjoyed it greatly. It was...dare I say it? Extremely good. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
How Accurate Is It?: We've already talked about the gelatin, and the strawberries were not heirloom. I do want to try this again with isinglass, so I can judge the difference.