Juicy Fruits - It’s fruits! Do something with fruits. It doesn’t get more simple than that. Bonus points for use of heritage crops and ingredients!
No fruits are in season up here yet. I have some red currants in the freezer from last year, but some of that is destined for jelly which hasn't yet been made. I'd have to use either frozen or imported fruit for this challenge, or winter storage apples or pears. Then I found the following strawberry recipe and my choice was made.
This recipe is from the Kentucky Housewife, by Lettice Bryan 1839, Cincinatti. I really wanted to use of of my ceramic jelly moulds, but the only one remotely big enough for this recipe was this one. It has a lovely design, but there is a crack in it and some of the glaze is showing some crazing, plus there is that weird blue stain. The recipe calls for it to be put in a deep dish and requires 3 pints of jelly, with the additional strawberries. I ended up using my steamed pudding mould, which was both deep and big enough to hold the required ingredients.
Isinglass is a gelatin thickener made from fish swim bladders. I think you can still get it at some brewing supply stores, but not available locally, so I substituted regular, granulated gelatin which is available at our bulk food store quite inexpensively. A bit of research showed that I would need 1 tablespoon of gelatin for every 2 cups of liquid to get the liquid to form jelly and if I wanted to mould it I would need at least 25% more. Remember that gelatin needs to be soaked in cold water to "bloom" before it is dissolved in hot liquid.
I used 5 tablespoons of gelatin and sprinkled it over 3 cups of cold water to bloom. I then made a simple syrup of 2 1/4 cups water and 1 1/4 cup sugar. Making the syrup is the easiest way I know of making sure the sugar is completely dissolved. When it had cooled just a little bit, I added the soaked gelatin mixture and stirred until it was mixed in. Then I stirred in 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice which had been strained through a very fine mesh strainer to remove any pulp, seeds or unwanted bits.
I put a layer of this gelatin mixture into the pudding mould and set it into the fridge to partially set. The fridge is much more convenient that ice and salt. When the gelatin was very thick but not firm, I added a layer of cleaned an trimmed strawberries by pushing them into the gelatin. Back into the fridge it went until firm. The gelatin has to be firm enough to hold the first layer of strawberries as otherwise when you add the next layer of gelatin, the warmer gelatin will melt enough of the lower layer that the strawberries will float to the top. It was a little dismaying when I saw all those strawberries floating happily after I'd though they were set. Once the second layer is almost set, add more berries and continue until the mould is filled.
I chopped the berries for the bottom layer as the imported strawberries are huge and too big for a third layer. In retrospect, I would just chop the berries in half, making them all smaller as I think it would work better.
The mould needs to set until completely firm. I left it overnight in the fridge to firm up and unmoulded it for lunch the next day. I could tell from the wobbly jelly, that it needed either a little more time to set up, or a little more gelatin in the liquid mixture.
I'd hoped the jelly would slice nicely for presentation purposes, but the bottom didn't have enough structural integrity to hold together. More gelatin next time, but also, I think the chopped strawberries changed up the fruit to gelatin ratio as well.
Despite the way the jelly collapased, it was really, really good. Good enough that I would do this again and again. It looked pretty spectacular before I cut into it.
Time - 1/2 hour to start, plus a few minutes here and there for the layers, plus overnight to set
Cost - $7.50 - Two packets of berries $5, gelatin $1, lemons 3/$1.50
Accuracy - except for the gelatin substitution and the fridge, pretty good.