I find the 50s fascinating. Not having lived through them, however, my knowledge of the era comes largely through the hazy glow of TV reruns. I love all of it: the dreams of space, the modernization of food, the clothing that was “just so” – it’s surreal.
The 50s emulate that wholesome everything-is-fine-and-dandy ideal, but of course it wasn’t. And the flip side of the happy facade – the neat-as-a-pin housewife who nipped at the sherry too often, the red-and-white-striped-shirt-wearing-tyke who tortured the family hamster, the man in the grey flannel suit – fascinates me even more.
This is why I picked Peggy Knickerbocker’s recipe for Wine Jello. To be honest, I don’t know if it was published in the 50s, but Knickerbocker vividly recalls her mother, Nancy, making it at that time:
My mother kept our icebox stocked with exotic foods by 1950's standards -- jars of capers, a crock of confit, and more often than not, a peculiar bowl of wobbly amber-colored Jello. The Jello was indented with little spoon marks from my mother's constant nibbling. Made with sweet wine, it delivered a gloved punch that soothed her nerves. When she paid bills in the afternoon or tended to other household chores that seemed stressful to her, she felt perfectly deserving of a fortifying bite of that wine-laced Jello […] recipes of hers [were] always cooked with some sort of liquor. While making Welsh Rarebit, bourbon balls, or coq au vin, she'd gleefully proclaim "a little for the pot and a little for me."
I don’t know about you but to me, boozy gelatin embodies the 1950s’ seeming innocence. Everyone sits down to enjoy a modern, respectable dessert … and winds up drunk.
Marsala Gelee (Wine Jello)
2 envelopes unflavored powdered gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
1 cup boiling water
3/4 cup sugar plus additional for sweetening cream
1-2/3 cups Marsala or sherry
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup heavy whipping cream beaten to soft peaks with a little sugar, optional
In a large heatproof bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let stand until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the boiling water and sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Stir in the Marsala and lemon juice and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours or preferably overnight. Spoon into dessert bowls, top each serving with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream, and serve. Serves 6.
Note: If you want to calm the kick in this dessert, heat the Marsala for a few minutes first; the flavor will remain but the alcohol will be tempered. Be sure to make this at least 5 hours ahead, as it needs to jell.
Grade: Please. What do you think?