Visitors to my kitchen frequently remark on the large number of antique jelly moulds scattered around the room. I usually explain that just a few of them were actually used for turning out jellies and even some of those had other uses. For instance, on the kitchen dresser in the photo above there are moulds for making puddings, ice compotes, nougat compotes, nougat cornucopias, chocolate peacocks, raised pies, sugar baskets, cakes and ice cream bombes. There are also some jelly moulds, but they are in a minority. "All that glitters is not gold" and all that is shiny copper is not necessarily a jelly mould.
|This advertisement for culinary moulds produced by the Paris firm Trottier in the 1860s testifies to the remarkable variety of moulds available for kitchen and confectionery use at this period.
|This late nineteenth century advertisement clearly illustrates the range of mould heights for jelly moulds. Those in the six and a half inch high category were probably designed for being filled with fruit to make the finished jelly more stable.
One specialist six-inch tall mould for making a jelly with a fruit macedoine core came provided with a separate internal liner in the form of a dome. This created a cavity within a cortex of transparent jelly, which would be filled with a macedoine of fruit. A jelly made in the outer mould alone is terribly unstable. It usually splits and dramatically collapses within a few seconds. Some taller moulds were designed to hold other specialist liners, such as the taller versions of the Belgrave, Alexandria and Brunswick Star. When set, these all had internal blancmange 'armatures' which gave them a degree of stability and helped them hold together.
The very same mould turned up a few weeks later in Wall to Wall's BBC production Further Back in Time for Dinner presented by Giles Coren and the excellent food historian Polly Russell from the British Library. Debbie, the hard-pressed chef who made a valiant job of cooking food for the family was provided with the same totally inappropriate mould for turning out a jelly. Again in the screen shots below you can see the result - a predictable failure and not the fault of the cook. If the chef had been given a sensible-sized mould designed for jelly, I am sure she would have produced an attractive dish. But I guess these failures are perceived by the producers as making better television. I personally think it is misguided and unfair to the cook. Perhaps we will see the 'Jonah mould' again soon - I gather Wall to Wall are making a programme on the history of confectionery - third time lucky!
|Mould and liner for the mysterious Belgrave Jelly illustrated above.
Some of the taller moulds were designed with other purposes in mind - not just for jellies. For instance, some savoury dishes, like the pain de gibier in the image below, were strong enough to be de-moulded without collapsing, as they were based on a firm and quite solid purée of meat held together with isinglass. Because of their solid consistency dishes of this kind were more difficult to get out of the mould than a much more pliant jelly, but a skilled cook of the nineteenth century would have had few problems doing this.
All this goes to show that nineteenth century moulds were designed for a complex and flexible cuisine, which has been mainly forgotten. Modern chefs are not taught how to use what is now considered to be obsolete equipment. The English TV production company Wall to Wall, who specialise in living history programmes, recently featured a very large copper mould in two different programmes, with predictably disastrous results. In one of the programmes, The Victorian Bakers at Christmas, which I have already mentioned in a previous article, the mould was used to boil a plum pudding. I could tell when I watched the mould being filled with pudding mixture that this was just not going to work. Not because the mould was too large in this case, but it was not thoroughly greased and the mixture was too slack. I took some screen shots to show you what happened.
|The pudding refuses to come out in one piece. It is likely that the top of the pudding either burnt to the mould, or the mould was just not greased thoroughly. Victorian cooks would have chosen a simpler mould.
|The rest of the pudding remains in the mould - embarrassing
|Oh no! It is that same Jonah mould again - you can gauge its huge size - being used in another Wall to Wall production for BBC- Back in Time for Dinner. This time to turn out a jelly. Not wise!
|The jelly fails because of the totally inappropriate choice of mould.