The Ladies' Tea Guild

Monday, September 1, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly: Challenge #7 -- The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread -- Raspberry Jell from 1945.

Calves' feet boiling for jelly.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
Having tried (and failed) to make jelly the old-fashioned way from calves' feet, it was a very quick and easy job to make jelly with packaged gelatine.  The calves' feet need to be cleaned, covered in water and boiled gently for 4 hours, until the meat and cartilage fall off the bones and are dissolved into the broth.  Then the bones and meat chunks and any undissolved cartilage need to be picked out of the broth and the broth needs to cool and settle overnight.  Then the fat that rises to the top of the broth needs to be cleaned off the top, and the sediment that sinks to the bottom needs to be scraped off as well.  The resulting jelly is a transluscent, meaty brown color that needs to be melted again and strained through a jelly bag or a few layers of cheesecloth or wet muslin to remove more sediment.  Then the jelly needs to cool and settle again, and if it's not yet clear and flavor-less, it needs to be melted and run through a jelly bag again.  Once it's clear, only then can you add the flavorings and pour it into a mold and let it set into its finished shape!  That takes at least a day, just to prepare the unflavored gelatine! 

Ingredients for Raspberry Jell.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
What a time-saver packaged, pre-measured, powdered gelatine is!  Just stir it into a little cold water for a minute, add hot water and flavorings, and pour it into its mold to chill and set.  From more than 24 hours prep time, down to 10 minutes, plus the time it takes to cool.  "Extract of Calves' Feet" was available to some in the U.S. as early as 1862, as mentioned in Cookery and Domestic Economy, a period cookbook.  However the Knox brand, and later Jell-O, came into existence around 1900 and really took off during World War 1 and 2 not only as a quick dessert ingredient that helped the housewife be more efficient with her time, but also as a dietary supplement for those who were dealing with food shortages.  The Knox Gelatine cookbook has an introduction which reads, in part: "Studies show that when Knox Gelatine is added to cow's milk, there is a marked reduction of curd tension compared with the same milk before adding gelatine—thus making it more easily digestible. ... As a Protein Drink: Hundreds of men and women engaged in strenuous occupations volunteered to drink Knox Gelatine regularly to see if it would help keep up their endurance.  After 28 days, 2 out of 3 said they noticed that they felt better at the end of their day's work."  Gelatine has come a long way from being seen as an important way to make desserts and appetizing salads from leftover fruits and vegetables and even juices from canned vegetables, to simply a rubbery, jiggly, children's lunchtime snack! 

Knox Gelatine recipe book from 1945.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
Here is the recipe: 

1 envelope Knox Gelatine
½ cup cold water
1 ¼ cups hot water
4 tablespoons sugar
2 heaping tablespoonfuls raspberry jam (or jelly)
3 tablespoonfuls lemon juice
1/8 teaspoonful salt

Soften gelatine in cold water.  Add sugar, salt, raspberry jam and hot water and stir until dissolved. (If jelly is used, dissolve over hot water before adding.)  Then add lemon juice and, if jam is used, strain to remove seeds.  Pour into mold that has been rinsed in cold water and chill.  Serves 6.
            Note: Strawberry, grape, blackberry or any other jam, jelly or marmalade may be used in this Raspberry Jell recipe.
-- from Knox Gelatine – Salads, Desserts, Pies, Candies., the Charles B. Knox Gelatine Co., Inc., 1945.

So to the challenge ... 

The Challenge: #7. The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread: Create a food item that reflects historical food improvements. Showcase a new discovery in food preparation, a different way of using food, or a different way of serving it. Make sure to include your documentation!
my vintage jelly mold.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
The Recipe: from Knox Gelatine – Salads, Desserts, Pies, Candies., the Charles B. Knox Gelatine Co., Inc., 1945.

The Date/Year and Region: United States, 1945.

How Did You Make It: I followed the recipe exactly, except that I boiled the water in my electric kettle and chilled the jelly in my modern fridge. The recipe made slightly over 2 cups of jelly, but as you can see, not enough to overflow the mold.

Time to Complete: maybe 10 minutes active work?  The longest time was spent waiting for the jelly to cool in the fridge; otherwise, it was just a matter of waiting for the water to boil, which took a few minutes, and waiting for the gelatine to soften, which took 1 minute. Stir everything together, run it through a mesh strainer to get the raspberry seeds out, and put in the fridge to cool.

Raspberry Jell in the mold, ready for chilling.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
Total Cost: Maybe a few dollars. I made the jam last year – this was the last ½ cup or so in the jar, and the lemon juice came from the Meyer lemons in my back yard, that I had also juiced last year and frozen the juice.  I sat the freezer container in some hot water just to melt the juice around the edges and got just enough juice for the recipe in the time it took for the water to boil.  The sugar and salt I had in my pantry, and the box of gelatine was all of $2 or so at the store.   

How Successful Was It?: I would say it is successful as a recipe, although I'll have to update this post when I take it out of the mold!  I don't know if it will come out in one piece, but I rinsed the mold with cold tap water like the recipe said, so we'll see if that's enough.  But it's been so hot lately, and my house doesn't have air conditioning, that a nice cool jelly will be a refreshing snack or dessert.  Now to whip some cream by hand to go with it ...

How Accurate Is It?:  I would say very accurate.  I did use my electric fridge and electric kettle to make it, which may or may not have been available to the average American  housewife in 1945 (ice boxes and a regular kettle on a gas stove would probably have been more common), and I covered the jelly mold with plastic wrap before putting it in the fridge just to keep anything from falling into it, and to keep the jelly from absorbing any flavors from the other food stored on the same shelf.  But other than that, I followed the recipe exactly, using my new (to me) vintage 1920s jelly mold, and my grandmother's measuring spoons, wooden spoon and glass bowl from the 1940s or 1950s.  I will probably be making some of the fruit recipes again, although I hesitate to try the salads ... 

Raspberry Jell -- collapsed!  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
EDITED: I let the gelatine set in the fridge over night, and turned it out of the mold this afternoon.  It looks like this (see photo at left) ... It didn't set as firm as I hoped it would, and a few minutes after this photo was taken, it collapsed almost completely!  If I make this again, I think I need to increase the amount of gelatin in the mix, so that it holds its shape.  But it tastes good!


Stephanie Ann said...

Looks great! Did you try flipping it out?

Bernideen said...

Oh my - that's a true challenge! Very interesting.

South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild said...

Stephanie Ann, it's not set yet, so I can't turn it out. I'll try tomorrow morning and take a photo. I still have to go back and re-do making jelly from calves'feet; I started it a few months back -- that's why I have the photo of the calves' feet boiling -- but I boiled them too vigorously and scorched the jelly. I guess you're only supposed to boil the feet gently ...

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)