I was supposed to be watching a family history powerpoint presentation. All the cousins, uncles, aunts and in-laws were there, eyes were forward, focussed. Except mine. My eyes were drifting upwards. High up on the top shelf of the book case, above the television screen and rows of books, sat a few antiques passed down to my mother-in-law: old German beer steins, a mini blue and white china casserole, a doll’s chest of drawers, and best of all, a ceramic jelly mould*.
I first discovered ‘English Jellies’ when I worked in a cookbook store in London. In the dessert section of the cookbooks – the new ones and the old – were fresh fruit jelly recipes, from black current to rhubarb, raspberry to gooseberry. These jellies were set in intricate ceramic moulds, from spiky castle-like designs to simple, Scandinavian curves. Sometimes berries were left suspended inside the jellies like jewel-toned edible dragonflies in amber, sparkling in the late afternoon sun. I was transfixed. This was not fluorescent 20th century Americana designed for children’s birthday parties or boozy stagette shots; this was serious, pre-Jell-O beauty.
I held it together until after the presentation, then I scaled the bookshelf. The mould was sitting there, like a small upside down bundt cake tin, bone coloured and beautifully aged. The words SHELLY ENGLAND were stamped on the side. The outside was smooth, but the inside looked like a French Gothic cathedral. I couldn’t imagine how anything could unmould from those sharp, dramatic edges, but who was I to question this age-old dessert?
Since the shelf scaling I’ve played with many versions of jelly: raspberry, blackberry, even a green-tea with hints of hibiscus. But my favourite is on the opposite page: haskap, flavoured with fresh thyme. My boys say it’s too grown-up for them. I say it’s about time we adults re-claimed this refreshing jewel of a dessert, especially at Thanksgiving, where rich colours reign. Swish it in your mouth, swirl it around, do what you will. The important thing is to enjoy jelly again, for the first time.
Haskap Jelly with Fresh Thyme
Recipe is based on a 500 ml (2 cup) Jelly mould. Recipe can be doubled.
Grease mould with a thin layer of vegetable oil and chill mould until ready to use.
2 cups (500ml) water
2 sprigs fresh thyme
½ cup sugar
juice of 1 lemon
2 cups fresh or frozen haskap berries**
2 sachets gelatin
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 ½ cups of the water and sugar and stir until sugar has dissolved. Add berries and thyme, bring to the boil then turn down to a gentle simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to break down the berries. Strain berries and thyme through a sieve, reserving liquid in bowl below. Whisk juice of a lemon into the liquid then top up the mixture with water until you have 2 cups (500ml) total, then slowly whisk in gelatin. Pour liquid into chilled jelly mould, leave to cool on the counter for a bit, then place in the refrigerator to set. This usually takes 4 hours, but is best left overnight.
To unmould the jelly, dip the mould into a bowl of hot water (if using a
metal mould this will take just a second or two, if using ceramic, as long as
30 seconds). Carefully loosen the edges of the jelly with a knife, then place
a serving plate over the surface of the mould and invert jelly onto the plate.
If suction doesn’t break, try dipping the mould into hot water again, or gently loosen the edges of the jelly with a knife, making sure not to cut into the design, if possible.
Serve as it is, alongside turkey, or as a dessert with
a dollop of cream, créme fraîche or thick yogurt.
**Substitute haskaps for blackberries or blueberries