Retro Food: Gelatin and Aspic
Okay, so I’ve briefly gone over some of the basics of why 40s/50s food is the way it is. Very, very briefly. I’ll try to get more into things as we go.
I’m going to start getting into food now.
Now, I’m just going to give a brief warning, judging by people’s reactions to aspic, some of the pictures might gross you out. I’ll try to tag these posts as ‘retro food’ and ‘gross food’, though and… well, we’ll get into the nature of aspic in a moment.
I’m going to refer to gelatin as ‘jell-o’ or ‘jello’ a lot, because that’s the brand that was really exploding at the time, but we need to have a quick look at what gelatin is.
Gelatin is an animal byproduct that comes from the proteins of animal bones, skin, and connecting tissue. By boiling the hell out of those things, you separate the elastic proteins from them. Why am I mentioning this? Mainly because aspic tends to be seen as the weird outlier of ‘meat jello’ while ‘sweet jello’ is seen as the norm. The truth is, aspic came first in cooking and adding sugar and fruit flavour is newer. And while aspic has mostly gone extinct as a cooking choice in America, other places in the world still serve it (like Russia with it’s holodets).
Shown here: Holodets garnished with a shutterstock logo
That out of the way, let’s talk about the history of jello, because it spans back farther than just the 40s.
You know how you can buy Jello packets for like 50 cents at your local supermarket? Well, back in the day, the Victorian day, gelatin was considered a luxury item reserved for royalty and the very wealthy. That’s because gelatin was sold in sheets, and the preparation of gelatin was super difficult (they didn’t have fridges, so… y’know. Lil hard to get it to set). With time and the miracles of technology, gelatin became more available to the common man. The common man who recently became able to afford fridges.
Shown Here: Pork cutlets in aspic. Amazing. I can’t decide what to comment on, the amazing prospect of eating perfectly dome shaped food or that it looks like catfood suspended in a paperweight.
There’s two big things about gelatin. The first being it still had that lingering aura of being a luxury item. It was cheaper at this point, but being able to make it also meant that you had a fridge. It also meant you were able to afford expensive gelatin molds. Because yeah, those weren’t cheap either.
The secondary thing is, thanks to the war, people were huge on making food last as long possible. And gelatin was actually really good at that- anything you put into jello became encased in a protective jello shield. And since it takes quite awhile for gelatin to ‘go bad’, it helped preserve foods from bacteria for longer than they otherwise would have lasted. So you could nosh on your jello atrocity for longer than you would have otherwise. Yaay.
So those two things in mind, gelatin became pretty damn popular. Aspic has always been around, but it became easier to make, so you see aspic dishes as commonly as jello dishes. Knox and Jell-o were two big names in gelatin at the time, and are still around today.
What’s not around today, however, is some of the savory flavours of Jell-o.
So, naturally, you put a fish in it.
Vegetable, celery, tomato, and ‘italian’ flavored jellos are a thing that once existed but no longer do. Sadly, recipes that called for these gelatins can no longer be made. It also means that when you see green jello being used in a dish, it’s not necessarily lime! It could be vegetable or celery flavoured instead, which might make the flavour profile slightly less horrifying. It could also, in fact, actually be lime anyway.
It’s lime! Why.
Learning about retro gelatin food also drove me to learn what the exact definition of ‘salad’ was, because boy, none of this stuff looked like salad to me. Turns out salad basically means ‘mix of cold stuff’. Soooo… okay. Sure. It’s salad and everything I thought I knew in my life is a lie, but okay.
That’s all for this section, enjoy this collection of pictures of gelatin foods.
The famous ‘perfection salad’!
Look there’s a recipe so you can make this at home.
… why is it always lime?