Earlier this year, at the Wedgwood Museum in Barlaston, Staffordshire, I came face-to-face with 18th-century jelly moulds: all in that classic creamy Wedgwood Queensware glaze. Immediate lust.
I love the idea of the history of these things - the amazing history of the industrial revolution's earliest manufacturers, as well as the domestic history of the individual objects - who owned them? what did they make? who ate the jellies? How did the moulds survive unbroken?
Research showed 18th-century moulds were financially out of reach, but Victorian moulds are surprisingly affordable still, especially for wealthy relatives. I put antique Wedgwood jelly moulds on my birthday list.
And it came to pass I got one! Yay! I chose a Victorian contra-swirl patterned one. The markings indicate it was made by Wedgwood c1880, twenty years before my grandfather was born.
Rather utilitarian and in today's terms under-designed, these stamps have their own modest beauty: the hand that stamped them as mysterious and distant to us as the hands that carved ancient Roman inscriptions - and yet culturally they are just as readable and informative. The man or woman who stamped the marks in the wet clay back in 1880 is long dead, but the object itself could last for thousands of years - pottery can break, but doesn't degrade. Shards date civilisations.
So, have jelly mould, will make jelly! Can't say I am actually much of a jelly fan, but there does appear to be a culinary revival going on - check out hip London jellymongers Bompass and Parr's website. Jellies also have a fascinating and distinguished culinary history.
For my first attempt I decided to jellify an Innocent mango smoothy. My mould takes exactly a pint of liquid (Victorian planning!) - and according to the gelatin packet instructions I needed 4 sheets.
The gelatin sheets are like clear acetate lasagne sheets. You have to soak them in cold water for five minutes, when they become a bit floppy, like plastic with a faint jelly-ish texture. You take them out of the water and squeeze the excess liquid off (I was expecting the sheets to be sticky at this point but they weren't at all).
Meanwhile, I heated up the smoothy in a pan (instructions say not to boil). I then added the soaked gelatin sheets and gently stirred until they were fully melted - about another two minutes. I then decanted the hot jelly into the mould.
I was warned to wet the mould first, and leave some extra space at the top to allow for gravity to pull the jelly out. Apparently a Victorian cook's trick was to oil the mould with almond oil, and then freeze it quickly before adding the jelly (an option available to only the wealthiest cooks with access to ice, obviously.)
I then let the jelly cool down completely before placing in the fridge to set overnight.
Et voilà! The final result. I dipped my mould in hot water to loosen the jelly, and left it in slightly too long, resulting in melting and mould pattern erosion. Something to remember for next time!
I must say, the jelly was vastly superior to packet jellies - the freshness of the fruit smoothy makes a huge difference. Also, there was just enough gelatin to gently set the jelly - it wasn't rubbery at all.