Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Like a Bowlful of Jelly

QUESTION: Recently, I’ve begun to collect jelly molds. The ones I’m finding are mostly newer, but I’d like to perhaps add some older ones to my collection. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about these molds, except that many were not made to mold jelly as many people know it today. What can you tell me about the old jelly molds? Why did they come to be?

ANSWER: If you say jelly, most people think of fruit jellies in jars. While some people still make their own, the majority of people buy theirs at their local supermarket. Brands like Smuckers and Welch’s have become synonymous with jelly. But early jelly molds contained mostly other types of foods.

White earthenware jelly molds, particularly those produced in England around the turn of the 20tº century, are some of the most widely collected of all food molds. Although jelly molds have been produced in a variety of materials, including copper, tin, redware, yellowware, graniteware, cast iron, aluminum and plastic, over the last several hundred years, it’s the white earthenware ones that collectors favor. Cooks used these molds to form aspics, sweet jellies, mousses, and steamed puddings.

Historians believe the use of jellies began in medieval England, when people prepared the earliest of puddings, called blancmange, literally "white food,” from boiled milk and ground almonds, sometimes flavored with fish or poultry. Flummery, an oatmeal believed to have been the first food actually set in wooden molds, appeared during the late 17`º or early 18'"century.

Cooks prepared the earliest jellies---technically, aspics, being savory rather than sweet --with gelatin they obtained from cows' feet and sheep's heads, which they flavored with meat extracts. They used shavings from deer antlers to make hartshorn jelly. They employed Isinglass — a natural substance obtained from the air bladders of certain fish, and containing about 90 percent gelatin—to help improve the setting qualities of jellied foods. When cooks created the first aspics in the 18th century, the scope and use of molds broadened considerably.

By the 18th century, sugar had become widely available, and sweet jellies became popular. Cooks used wines, fruit juices and nuts used as flavorings, and colored their jellies with boiled down plants and other natural sources, including insects. The most common colors were lemon yellow, orange, ,and violet. People used individual bowls  or glasses until about the mid-1700s, when molds became larger.

One of the main suppliers of earthenware jelly molds was Wedgwood. Although best known for decorative pieces, Wedgwood produced many jelly molds. The company’s two-part "core molds" from the 18th century were well suited to translucent jellies. These molds remained in place once a cook unmolded the jelly. The hand-painted enameled designs on the inner core were visible through, and magnified by, the jelly, making for a handsome display. Wedgwood intended these jellied creations only as table decorations, not for consumption. Other Wedgwood molds featured classical and Egyptian themes, animal and birds, Prince of Wales' feathers, and the emblems of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The firm designed molds with eagle and corn-on-the-cob motifs for the American market.

In the 19th century, middle-class housewives began to use jelly molds. Molds came in a wide variety of shapes, including geometric forms, with their designs of swirls, tiers, and/or spirals, and . "architectural" styles. Architectural molds incorporated 18th and 19th century neo-classical building elements such as grooved columns, acanthus leaves, pieces of egg-and-dart molding, and rounded ornamental knobs. Various fruit, flowers, wheat, corn and animal patterns were also abundant. Cooks used many molds from this period for all kinds of food, from rice to ice cream to pudding. They used some pudding molds to steam or bake in while they used others for chilling and setting pudding that they had cooked in a saucepan. Generally, pudding molds intended for baking or steaming had a tube or spout in the center, much like an angel food cake pan, to allow for more even cooking.

Minton produced pyramid jelly molds as early as 1824. Historians believe these molds to have been two-part core molds similar to those produced by Wedgwood. Minton's 1884 catalog illustrates 63 different molds, featuring recumbent lions, crowns, wheat sheaves, shells, grapes, pineapples, other fruits, fishes, and florals. They also made  architectural molds. Minton molds often have a foot rim, a bluish tinge and no mark.

Another notable manufacturer was W.T. Copeland, a company that produced a prolific number of molds well in the 20th century, including architecturally inspired designs,  various fruits, chickens, bears, dolphins, and conch shells.

By the late 1880s, when advances in printing made colored cookbook illustrations possible, aspiring hostesses could prepare luscious-looking molded dishes. Using exotic molds such as those in Copeland's catalog, cooks used differently colored gelatins, as well as bits of food placed in the mold to create an attractively patterned surface when they turned out the jelly.

The Victorian era was the heyday of the jelly mold. When World War I began, may firms went out of business. Instant gelatin desserts, such as "JELL-O", took much of the work out of making molded desserts and the status as well.

NOTE: The title of this blog comes from the poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore, published in 1823. Most people probably never would connect a “bowlful” of jelly with jelly molds, but prior to the poem’s creation, many people used bowls to molded their jellies.
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