5 years and a jelly

I have just spent a few days at my parents house near London. That’s my mum, well part of her, sitting at her kitchen table on Tuesday with oranges and pomegranates which I’ll come to later. Yes, more oranges, it must feel like citrus dèjà vu every time you come here.

It was a significant trip because last Sunday it was exactly five years since I took flight, in both senses of the word, from England to Italy. My departure on 6th March 2005 was a snap, a ping, a spontaneous decision that caused chaos at the time, but one that after much twisting, turning and the necessary amends, has led me to a very different, much happier and unexpected life here in Rome.

I’m not going to dwell on this, but it seemed important to mark the date with you all. Had it not been for that particular Sunday, I wouldn’t be in living in Rome teaching, cooking and writing in the way I do now, I wouldn’t have started this blog, I wouldn’t have become part of all this and met all of you. Good and happy things all of them.

The jelly

We are a family of Jelly dessert lovers, especially my Dad. I am not talking about the highly artificial, rubbery, lurid stuff that’s called jell-O or jelli and comes in gels, powders or ready- set in small tubs, boasting ‘only four ingredients; gelatin, water, artificial flavour and artificial colour’ – actually I do have a sentimental weakness for packet jelly so I shouldn’t sniff, especailly Rountree’s mandarin flavour with tinned mandarin segments that sit suspended in the rubbery gel like goldfish with rigamortis. I am talking about ephemeral, wibbly wobbly fresh fruit juice or alcohol jellies, ones scented with spices and softly set with gelatin or agar agar flakes, jellies which at least a nod to their honourable and intriguing history that dates back to medieval times.

My mum made such a jelly on Saturday night, a particularly wonderful and delicious one of oranges, pomegranates and cardamom.

A softly set, cloudy pink dessert, light, sweet and nicely sharp with the warm, fragrant, spicy undertones of the cardamom. Elegant but inherently amusing because jelly always is. Wobble wobble.

On Sunday I sat at the kitchen table copying the jelly recipe into my notebook, it is one of Nigel Slater’s that my Mum snipped from the Guardian back in December last year – an alternative christmas pudding, he also suggests prunes with chocolate and creme fraiche or a chocolate and chestnut terrine which were also duly noted down. Then Mum and I sat talking about jelly, agreeing it is abused, misunderstood, overlooked and discussing the endless possibilities.  Suddenly Mum leapt up excitedly and pulled a book off the shelf, a slim, hardback volume – with a lovely painting of summer pudding and a custard tart on the cover – called English puddings sweet and savory by Mary Norwalk. She turned to chapter two; Jellies, blancmanges and Flummeries.

A flummery indeed, more about that another day. First the jellies, after a fascinating introduction and insight into the history of jelly, there are recipes for lemon jelly, cider jelly, port wine jelly, Victorian apple jelly, milk jelly, little orange jellies served in orange skin baskets which were a favourite of Charles II apparently…… I scribbled so frantically my mum gave me the book to bring back to Rome. For a jelly lover like myself it was bewitching, the possibilities, in possession of gelatin and maybe some sugar you can set just about anything, into a quivering, delicate dessert.

It all very fanciful, jelly daydreaming.

Anyway back to the orange, pomegranate and cardamom jelly, which I made again on Tuesday the day before I left.

Basically you make some fruit juice (it could be alcohol or any flavoured solution for that matter)and set it with gelatin or agar agar. In this case it is orange and pomegranate juice, oh and a lemon too, to which you add some finely chopped zest. You don’t have to worry about stray pomegranate seeds or orange pulp, it can be a messy lumpy mass, you will strain it later. My mum has this cunning little tool called a lemon reamer which is well, cunning and I wish I had thought of it.

Then you crush 6 pretty papery grey- green cardomens pods with the back of a heavy knife so they split revealing the neat rows of jet black seeds, and then you scoop up pods and seeds and add them along with a little sugar to the pink juice. Now you warm the juice until it is just, but not quite boiling, you cover it and leave it to sit and the sultry cardomen infuse the fruit juice for about 15 minutes

While the juice is sitting quietly you soak 5 leaves of gelatin in cold water. You stain the juice into a clean jug (reserving the cardamom pods) and you slip the now floppy, gooey gelatin leaves into the just warm juice

You return the reserved cardamom pods into the juice – they will float around, apparently pointlessly, but will in fact discreetly give some of their flavour to the jelly as it sets. Finally you divide the juice between 6 or 8 little glasses and refrigerate them for a good 4 or 5 hours or overnight.

On Saturday night my Mum took Nigel’s advice and broke open the remaining pomegranate, separated the fruit and served each tumbler of jelly with a crown of deep red jewel like pomegranate seeds piled on top which was delicious and very beautiful.

Back in Rome and in my kitchen which seems very small, I have all the ingredients and my new lemon reamer. I will make this for supper on Saturday for after main course (beef, I think) and before the chocolate.

Last thing, if you are vegetarian (Gelatin is a protein produced by partial hydrolysis of collagen extracted from the bones and connective tissues of animals) and using agar agar or vege -gel follow the instructions and quantities on the packet, then please let me know, I am really really interested in the results.

Orange, pomegranate and cardamom jelly

Adapted from Nigel Slater’s recipe in the Guardian

serves 6 or 8

  • 6 or 7 large, juice oranges (to give about 750ml juice)
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 2 pomegranates plus another for serving
  • 1 unwaxed lemon
  • 6 green cardamom pods
  • 5 sheets of gelatine or agar agar powder or

Cut few strips of oranges and lemon zest with a sharp knife and set aside then squeeze the oranges (you should have about 750ml of orange juice) and then the two pomegranates and the lemon.

Put the juice and the orange and lemon zest into a stainless steel pan along with the 6 cardamom pods you have split open by pressing them with the back of a heavy knife – add both pods and seeds – and the sugar.

Warm the pan gently over a low flame until the juice is bubbling and nearly but not quite boiling. Cover the pan, turn of the flame and leave it to sit for 15 minutes.

Once the pan has been sitting for about 10 minutes slide the gelatine sheets into a bowl of cold water to soften for 5 minutes.

Stain the now just warm juice into a clean jug (reserving the cardamom pods)

While the juice is sitting quietly you soak 5 leaves of gelatin in cold water. You stain the juice into a clean jug (reserving the cardomen pods) and you slip the now floppy, transparent gelatin into the just warm juice and stir them carefully and thoroughly into warm juice, the gelatine sheets will melt in seconds.

Add the reserved cardamom pods into the juice – they will float around, apparently pointlessly, but will in fact discreetly give some of their flavour to the jelly as it sets. Finally you divide the juice between 6 or 8 little glasses and refrigerate them for a good 4 or 5 hours or overnight.

IF you like you can break open the remaining pomegranate, remove the seeds and pile on top of the jellies.


Filed under food, fruit, jelly, Puddings, Rachel's Diary, recipes

48 responses to “5 years and a jelly

  1. Ciao Rachel, bentornata! sembra ottimo il tuo jelly, finalmente uno veramente genuino. Lo proverò presto

  2. Betta

    thank god you took that flight… HAPPY 5 YEARS ANNIVERSARY!

  3. You seem to be blessed with beautiful natural light wherever you go. Who would ever think a pile of juiced oranges could be so pretty? Well, I would… But anyway, I really enjoyed reading this. I too have a fondness for the mandarin-orange suspended jelly. Though we call it all Jell-O here in the U.S. This is because, sadly, Jell-O is all most of us have ever eaten. We just don’t have the same “jelly” tradition here. And I am very curious to hear more about this “flummery” of which you speak.

    • rachel

      hello Jenny
      aha the flummery, oh yes I will write more and if not (I am quite bad at keeping blog promises) I will send you a recipe.
      The light in London was amazing at the weekend, back in Rome it is really really dull. I need spring.

      • Well, spring is officially one week away, so hopefully you won’t have to wait too long for the weather to agree with that.

  4. See, that’s the kind of thing I wish desperately that I had grown up eating. Here in the good ol’ Southern U. S. of A., it was more like this: http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1843,159164-246203,00.html

  5. hi! i’ve been reading about jellies this week funny enough, in the ‘river cottage family cookbook’. Its something I’ve never conceived of before, so your post was very welcome. And happy 5. Adam and I celebrated our own 5 this week, of being together. I made a chocolate cake, delicious but the ugliest chocolate cake I’ve ever seen. have a lovely weekend!

    • rachel

      Another book I would like, is that the jelly with primrose petals??. Happy 5 to you too. I’ll take an ugly but delicious cake over an overly pretty one any day.

      • no, they just had recipes for fruit jellies, one orange/lemon, one strawberry…mm, i really must try this, I’ve never seen this in the states…

  6. Your photos belong in the Museum of Modern Art. What a captivating post. I feel as if I must add cardamom pods to my grocery list so that I might make this over the weekend. In fact, I want to make this so much that I wish that I already had.

    • rachel

      Feels a bit odd having those pictures here, they are so different….My mums kitchen is the polar opposite to mine and should be in a museum of modern art.
      Cardamom is a bewitching spice…

  7. Val

    I am so inspired to make jelly now 🙂

  8. Lovely. My girls love jelly and I make the one that elenagold refers to from the River Cottage Family Cookbook which they love to make and eat but not quite as much as they love Rowntree’s, especially when they get to eat a cube straight out of the packet when they think I am not looking! Welcome back, do we get the rabbit post now?

    • rachel

      My brother and I used to eat that jelly like big gummy sweets. I think I must sound like a jelly snob here. Maybe I should add that I think rountree’s jelly is a fundamental part of a proper English childhood.
      Yikes the rabbit, I made the recipe at my parents with an english wild rabbit – just need to put it into words…

      • oh no, not a jelly snob at all. I wish my children loved my healthy homemade jelly more than Rowntrees but as you say it’s a childhood thing – all kids are on a quest to consume as much sugar and artificial colour and flavouring as it is possible to do, especially if they think mum’s back is turned!

  9. your stories are always so beautiful, R. and the photos, so beautiful, taken from such gorgeous angles. they are alw so simple and vibrant. (have i said this a million times before on your blog? if so, sorry). i felt a bit ashamed when you talked about conventional jelly bec it was my favourite treat when i visited Pakistan in the summer, i was going to write smthg about it on my blog, but thought oops, perhaps best i dont! however i was happy to read that you like rowntree’s. it’s close enough to my rafhan’s jelly in pakistan. lovely recipe, love the cardamoms. x shayma

    • rachel

      Thankyou……and yes I have a deeprooted affection for rountree’s……I’d love to hear your jelly stories.

  10. Ah, jelly. Milk jelly? Really? This is gorgeous and so grown up, yet still perfectly a jelly. I was sick recently and had plain orange juice jelly, an old family treat, and it worked just fine. Not as elegant as this, but still. And how nice to mark a time in your life with your mother and jelly.

    • rachel

      The milk jelly, it is high on my list as is an almond milk jelly.

      Yes grown up and just a bit silly which is always a good combination.

  11. A milestone well noted, and appreciated by your blogging friends…..Happy 5 to your new Roman life, we’ve all benefited from that courageous move.

    Orange and pomegranate and cardamom….a marvelous trio. I rather like the very last photo, too.

  12. Jam made by mom, what could be more comforting?

    Agar, what could be a funnier word?

    Thanks sharing!

  13. Although jellies are not my favorite, after reading your post, perhaps I’ve never had one properly prepared. I can almost hear your crisp English accent encouraging me to try one. As for flummeries, I am not so sure. Perhaps you left England amidst chaos, but it seems as if you’ve found your bliss in Rome.

  14. gosh, sorry for not saying congrats! i realised i did not wish you. x shayma

  15. bonjourkitty

    I for one, am greatly looking forward to hearing all about the next 5…
    In between Avola and Modica there was jelly for pud on every menu – lemon, cinnamon and almond… delish, I just wish I’d found the moulds.
    Going back next year for more. please come! xx

  16. Gorgeous, my goodness. I cannot wait to make these.

  17. Happy five years!

    The jelly looks amazing! So fresh and light. Perfect for the (hopefully soon coming) warmer weather.

  18. I love the idea of making a jelly out of fresh squeezed juice. It’s so not what we’re we used to when we think of jelly in the U.S.

    Congratulations on your five-year anniversary. Isn’t it amazing how one decision can change your life so drastically?

  19. Fabulous stuff. Amazing sounding combination of flavours. I’ve been playing around with jellies for the last few weeks (they are so a la mode, don’t you know) trying different methods and gelling agents. The diversity of results has been staggering but I’m really liking the way carrageenan works. You should hunt it out

    • rachel

      I await your jelly eagerly Mr Rushmer, it is bound to be even more fabulous
      wobblyness. You are the second person to give me this advice so will seek out carrageenan asap.

  20. Wow, Rachel. This looks so good. I’ve really never made anything like it. I love the combination of flavors. I also really enjoyed reading about your time with your Mother your and decision to journey to Rome. I am very glad you are where you are in life and that I’ve been able to discover your writing.

  21. “like goldfish with rigor mortis”. love the phrase, love the memories mandarin orange jelly evokes, particularly the yellow-ish vanilla ice cream that often came with it.
    I’m totally intrigued by flummeries – i think flummery was a Dr. Dictionary word of the day a while back, forget what it means though – but I’m even more fascinated by blancmange. My grandmother’s sole contribution to the Sunday table was an occasional rhurbarb blancmange that had the same color and appearance as a bruise on an old woman’s thigh, and because of that, rather turned me off. That said, texturally, I am a huge admirer of any dessert that wobbles, whether opaque or translucent, and I need to make some blancmange sharpish if for no other reason than to prod it gently and watch it shake. Really enjoyed this post.

    • rachel

      Yes the very yellow icecream – Wall’s vanilla in our house. The rhubard Blancmange sounds good despite the
      colour associations. Maybe we could have a blancmange and flummery phase on our blogs!


  22. Michelle

    Last days of heat in Sydney and stumbled across your jelly blog, just reminded me of some jelly sweets I’d eaten in Japan that melted in my mouth. Bought the fruit added a passionfruit, I used something called Titanium gelatine sheets and voila I have just eaten divine jelly. So simple as all the good things in life are. I’m pondering now on what other flavours I can try and what difference agar agar would make to the melting temp. Thanks enjoy your blog.

    • rachel

      Wow Titanium jelly sheets, they sound fantastic and very space age. I bet passionfruit and orange would make a wonderful jelly. I am not sure how agar agar would affect times – I will do some investigating and let you know…

  23. Pingback: More cream | rachel eats

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