I was thinking back to childhood birthday parties with “jelly and ice-cream”. Then I thought further back and remembered we didn’t have a fridge, let alone a freezer or ice-box. No, we used to have “jelly and blancmange”.
The jelly was ever present when I was a child. We made it every week for Sunday teatime, when we had fish-paste sandwiches and then jelly with tinned mandarin oranges and Ideal milk. Richer friends had Carnation condensed milk, but we always had the little blue-and-white-striped Ideal tins.
I remember helping my mother pull apart the separate cubes of jelly, which were put in a Pyrex bowl with boiling water until the cubes had all melted (they turned into globby spheres before disappearing).
When it had cooled a little it was put in a thick glass mould to set and when it was solid it was turned out, quivering, from the mould.
We had two sorts of mould – the standard fluted one with bobbles on top and one like a rabbit. I think I’ve still got the bobbly one somewhere in the garage, but can’t quite find it.
Do you remember that squelching sound the spoon made when cutting off a piece of jelly and putting it into individual bowls?
The rabbit mould was flatter and was mainly used for blancmange, which was usually strawberry or raspberry, although vanilla and chocolate were also available. It was made from a packet of powder, mixed with milk – warm milk, I think. Here’s a great website with recipes: The Modern Gelatina.
Blancmange comes from the French blanc-manger, literally “white-to eat”. It’s pronounced “blummonge” although I toyed with “blank-manj” as a word-loving child.
The word jelly also comes from the French, gelée, from geler (Latin gelare), meaning “to freeze”. Although in America it has become “jello” from Kraft’s “Jell-O” brand name.
According to Wikipedia the original dish was a meaty one, of chicken, milk or almond milk, rice and sugar. It was deemed to be an ideal food for the sick.
There were many similar dishes all over Europe and I particularly like the 13th century Danish name hwit moos, meaning “white mush”. I wonder if that’s where the word “mousse” comes from? Although the Chambers dictionary gives it as the French word for “moss”.
Mousse was another thing – I think it was the first ready-made dessert we used to buy from the grocery shop.
As time went by, we gave up on blancmange and started to make milk jelly, which was marketed as such, but I guess it was just ordinary jelly you added milk to.
We also went through a phase of living on Angel Delight, which I see is still available. Again just a powder you mix with milk and whip up a little.
But the ultimate treat was eventually jelly and ice-cream. We still didn’t have a fridge or freezer, but we lived opposite the village shop, so could buy a block of ice-cream and wrap it in thick newspaper. It would then keep cold for a few hours until we could eat it.
The creme de la creme at the time was Neapolitan ice-cream, with stripes of chocolate, vanilla and raspberry. Later my favourite was raspberry ripple, which still came in a block packaged in card, rather than the much later plastic tubs.
The ice-cream from the village shop was always “Cornish” ice-cream, so the vanilla was always a rich golden colour, not white.
My big brother spent one summer driving a Tonibell ice-cream van and I often went with him. I think the jingling tune it played when it stopped to sell was “Girls and Boys Come out to Play”. Those were the days.
And those were also the days, in the early 1960s, of jelly sandals. They were very useful when going on a trip to the seaside at Barry Island.
That was the first time around for jellies, but they have made a great comeback in the last few years.
So jelly (jello) never went away and jellies are back with us, but what chance for a modern blancmange marketing campaign?