Growing up during the Eighties, my only knowledge of jelly was that of tablets of Robinsons Fruit Jelly. These hard rubbery rectangles had to be melted in a pint of boiling water and in our house, poured into a bright blue Tupperware mould, before setting in the fridge. Rarely did we actually unmould the thing, scooping it into a bowl and, on special occasions pouring over Carnation milk topping and a sprinkling of hundreds and thousands.
It was my grandmother who sparked my interest in proper jelly. As a child growing up during the end of the Raj rule in India, she told me stories about jelly creations made to celebrate jubilees and coronations by the cooks at her school for the predominantly British teachers. Since the source of the gelatine -beef or pork, could be difficult to establish, it was not something that Indians ate. Instead, like my grandmother, were curios of these large, tiered, moulded fruit jellies, decorated with pipings of mango or pineapple cream, gilded and studded with brightly coloured candied fruit and dragees.
Since then, I have had a yearning to find the perfect ornate mould and, to make the most ostentatious jelly and, what better way to hone the jelly making skills than to attend a workshop by Bompas&Parr? Starting life as jellymongers and bursting on to the scene with their architectural jellies; in recent years, they have become better known for their astonishing food events and multisensory experiences. Throwing open their kitchen and workshop for the first time, it was a fun and comprehensive day of all things jelly.
Lead by Sam Parr, we started with the history of jelly: from 16th Century leaches scented with rose water and set using isinglasse; elaborate Georgian flummeries in the shape of bird’s nests, ponds teeming with gilded fish and large playing cards, to the pinnacle of jelly making during the Victorian era, using complex gothic moulds, multiple flavours and real fruit. These creations could take days to make and were the centrepiece of the dessert course. A far cry from the way jelly is viewed today.
We moved on to the nitty gritty of mould making. The traditional carving and casting from wooden blocks becoming usurped by the use of computer aided design and 3D printing. Preferring to use food-safe PET and vacuum moulding; we were given tips about CAD programmes, tinning and copper plating, should we wish it. Having chosen a plaster positive from their extensive library to vacuum mould later and take home, we flocked to the kitchen to start the process of jelly making.
Starting with a demonstration of how to make a basic lemon jelly, with tips and hints on gelatine to liquid ratios and short cuts to reduce the time to set, we were split into groups of three and moved rapidly to an effervescent cocktail of elderflower, Prosecco and fresh raspberry, to have with our lunch. A slab of orange and Campari later, to use for our afternoon of advanced jelly techniques, we congregated in the Bompas & Parr work shop to make moulds.
I couldn’t help but choose their iconic St Paul’s Cathedral mould but there were so many types to choose from: ziggurats and pyramids; Neo-classical architecture; Victorian copper positives and even a Trafalgar class submarine. Using an old vacuum-thermoforming machine, that many of us probably used in CDT lessons at school; the process was delightfully simple.
Lunch was a generous spread of fabulous cheeses, cured meats, salads and pots of chutneys, pickles and sauces to accompany them. A walnut saucisson sec was particularly good, as was the fresh, citrusy Lord London -a semi-soft cheese made with cow’s milk.
Battling a vertiginous postprandial dip; after lunch, it was back to the kitchen to learn some more advanced jelly techniques. We started by each hollowing out a Satsuma, carefully leaving the peel intact. Using the leftover juice and pulp, we made a large batch of orange and Satsuma jelly, sharpened with a little lemon juice. Half of this to be used for layering and the other half for marbling.
Scented with cardamom and lemon zest, we then made a blancmange, also used for layering. Cooling and thickening the blancmange and orange jelly over ice, almost to setting point, we poured each jelly into the hollowed out Satsuma. Blasting it between each layer in the freezer for a short sharp measure, before allowing it to set fully at fridge temperature.
The rest of the orange jelly was also thickened by stirring over ice and to it, added cubes of bitter, fragrant and rather punchy Campari, cut from the slab made during the morning. The timing crucial, the mixture was poured into a mould -Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens, mixing and layering carefully, so that the Campari chunks were evenly spread throughout.
Finally, we were shown how to use gilding techniques with jelly; the magpie in me enjoying this the most. Using a slightly firmer set jelly at the top of the mould with a misshapen piece of leaf to crown it, or whisked in with a fork to create sparkling fragments, both looked equally beautiful.
Whilst our creations were left to set, we went back to the workshop to hear about some of Bompas&Parr’s recent food events and the research and work that went into getting them off the ground. Working closely with chemists and physicists at UCL, we heard snippets about projects yet to come and more about recent projects such as cooking with lightening and lava, multisensory fireworks and memoirs of a stomach. We even had a demonstration of the workings of their giant gherkin chandelier and best of all -a whisky tornado. An illuminated cabinet where a twister of vapourised whiskey, ginger and bitters could be sucked up with a straw.
Those ideas that you have prefaced with ‘Wouldn’t it be good if we could….’ and end with, ‘nah, it’d never work’, well these guys actually go on and try and make it happen. It really is a joyous thing to be able to let your imagination take you places and even nicer to share it.
We ended a rather busy day by turning out our jellies and tucking into platters of layered, marbled and fruit studded cogs and pyramids, each with the perfect wobble. And the grand finale, an exploding jelly with a copy of Tutti Fruitti to take home. Now all I need is the perfect mould and my tiered jelly creation WILL happen.
To find out when the next Jelly Workshop will be taking place e-mail email@example.com. A wonderful day filled with jelly and, cheese.