Monthly Archive for December, 2011

Origin of a Dish: The Jell-O Shot

“Punch Jelly,” from 1862.

My friend (and medieval textiles expert) Miranda brought this “cocktail” to my attention, by chattily asking me if I had ever tried the original Jell-O shot from Jerry Thomas’ 1862 book How To Mix Drinks.  The answer was no, but I was astounded and delighted by the idea.

There are records of gelatinous wines and champagnes being concocted as early as 1800, but Thomas’ recipe for “Punch Jelly” is made with spirits.  Essentially, it’s a basic rum punch (which includes cognac and lemonade) with a gelling agent added: historically, this would have been calves’ foot jelly or isinglass.  The former would have a hint of meaty flavor, while the latter, extracted from the swim-bladders of sturgeons, tasted remarkably of the sea.  I had neither lying around my kitchen the night I decided to make Punch Jelly; I used flavorless Knox gelatine instead.

I’ve made this recipe two ways: by following Miranda’s proportions for the intricate lemonade that Thomas describes in his recipe; and by simply replacing this lemonade with Newman’s Own Lemonade, which is delicious.  Either way, the punch jelly tasted about the same: strong.  My tasters and I agreed it was a little much…but by the end of the evening, 24 punch jellies had somehow made their way into the tummies of my guests.

Make these as a treat for your New Year’s party; they aren’t tasty enough to stand on their own, but your guests will be delighted to know that these are the “original”: the great-great grandfathers of the carnival-colored, fruit-flavored, jiggly Jell-O shots of today.  There is a historic precedent.

And if you had any illusions that the people of the past were somehow better (classier? more morally upright?) than us, check out what Thomas has to say about Punch Jellies:

This preparation is a very agreeable refreshment on a cold night, but should be used in moderation; the strength of the punch is so artfully concealed by its admixture with the gelatine, that many persons, particularly of the softer sex, have been tempted to partake so plentifully of it as to render them somewhat unfit for waltzing or quadrilling after supper.

Ain’t that the truth.

Punch Jelly
From How to Mix Drinks, By Jerry Thomas, 1862.
Originally adapted by Miranda, with some further variations on my part.

The juice of 3 lemons
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water

1 cup cognac
1 cup dark Jamaican rum
2 packets unflavored gelatine

Make the lemonade by combining the lemon juice, sugar and water (or replace this with 2 cups store-bought lemonade).  Heat lemonade in a saucepan until it comes to a boil.  Remove from heat and add the gelatine, one packet at a time, by sprinkling it over the surface of the liquid and stirring until completely dissolved.  Allow to cool slightly, then add alcohols.  Pour into individual molds or shot glasses.  Makes approximately 16 shots.


There’s a new book: The Jell-O Shot Test Kitchen: Jell-ing Classic Cocktails–One Drink at a Time.  I’m unashamed of my affection for Jell-O shots.  Ima gonna get this book.

Cocktail Hour: Alabama Eggnog

AFAP: As Fluffy As Possible

“AN Alabama eggnog is one that caresses the palate with velvety goodness, and then once it is within the stomach, suddenly becomes the counterpart of a kicking mule.  It is a fluffy, saffron colored beverage, delicate in fragrances, daintily blended, and pungently persuasive.”

My Festivus party was last weekend and I decided to try an 1940s recipe for “Alabama Eggnog.”  It comes from The Food of a Younger Land, edited by Mark Kurlansky.  It’s a collection of essays written by the WPA’s Federal Writer’s Project that were compiled with the  intention of creating a compendium of regional American foods.  It was to be titled “America Eats,” but with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the start of WWII, the project was never completed.

Kurlansky has selected what he feels are the most interesting and most important essays.  The one about the Southern style eggnog caught my eye.  It was believed to have evolved in the antebellum south, in the “big houses,” where it was a slave who gathered “…Hundred of eggs… to be blended with choice, well-aged whiskeys that the planters had ordered from distant distilleries.”

It was still being made at lavish parties in the Depression era, despite the fact that prohibition was enforced in parts of Alabama.

The recipe, as told by an “aged Negro,” goes like this:

Take a dozen eggs, and beat the yellows and the whites separately, both very light.  Put half the sugar in the whites, and half in the yellows.  When the yellows are beaten together very light, add the whiskey, two tablespoonfuls to an egg.  The fold in the beaten whites, and at last fold in one pint whipped cream, adding more whiskey to taste.  This proportion can be used to make any amount of egg nog.

Alabama Eggnog
From the WPA Writer’s Project America Eats manuscript, c. 1940;
as it appears in The Food of a Younger Land edited by Mark Kurlansky

12 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups whiskey
1 pint cream

Separate egg whites and yolks into two separate bowls; add half the sugar to each bowl.  With an electric mixer, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form; add to a large punch bowl.  Next, beat egg yolks until very light in color.  Fold together egg whites and yolks.  Add whiskey.  Whip cream until soft peaks form, fold into egg mixture.  Serve with a sprinkle of fresh grated nutmeg.


At my party, an excited crowd gathered as I mixed the nog.  I tasted the frothy egg mixture after added the recommended amount of whiskey…and then proceeded to double it, adding more whiskey 1/2 cup at a time, tasting after each addition.  I ended up adding a full three cups of whiskey before it tasted just right.

“More cream???”  Someone exclaimed as I began to fold in snowy peaks of whipped cream.  My guests were intimidated by the froth.  “But how do you drink it??”

But drinking it wasn’t a problem; despite its fluff, it was easy to serve and drink.  It was like drinking marshmallow booze.

“Eggnog!  Eggnog is the best!” cheered Roommate Jeff.  The Alabama eggnog was drunk up long before the party’s end.

Four Pounds Flour Holiday Shopping Guide

These saffron rock candies from Kalustyan's would make great stocking stuffers.

Do you need a gift for a discerning historic gastronomist this holiday season?  Well, I got ya covered.  Here are two stores that will please the palate of your favorite foodie.

The Meadow is a fine food store that specializes in salt, chocolate and bitters.  In fact, that’s pretty much all they sell.  Trust me, it’s awesome.

They’ve got outposts in New York and on the west coast, but you can order online here.  For this holiday season, they recommend:

Scrappy’s Bitters Gift Set – For the cocktail connoisseur, Seattle based bitters producer Scrappy’s has assembled the perfect gift sets, $28 each.

  • 4-Pack Mini of Lime, Orange, Celery, Lavender.  Here>>
  • 4-Pack Mini of Orange, Chocolate, Cardamom, Grapefruit.  Here>>

Xocolatl de David Raleigh Bar – The best stocking-stuffer for candy lovers who happen to be grown ups—a sort of Snickers bar made with superb ingredients and serious love. Classicbacon, and bourbon varieties available. Get the El Dorado, all three, wrapped up nicely for $9. Here>>

Askinosie Drinking Chocolate – One of the true craft drinking chocolates—that’s hot cocoa, but with the precious, voluptuous cocoa butter still inside—made right here in the USA. $16.  Here>>

A few more suggestions are below.

Himalayan salt blocks; a beautiful shade of pink. They make interesting serving trays.

A whole wall of chocolate! I've heard the "Dolfin Dark Chocolate Earl Grey" bar is amazing.


This is the largest selection of bitters I've seen anywhere.

The have an exquisite collection of salt cellars for purchase.


From a store that sells three things to a store that sells everything:  Next time you’re in New York, check out Kalustyans.  I’m not sure how to describe this place; perhaps as an ingredients store?  The sell candy, bitters, sauces, flavorings, spices, flours, dried fruit…it’s a wonderland of delicious, often hard-to-find foods.  They were even recommended in the new book Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All as the go-to place for exotic spices to make cocktail bitters.  You can also shop online here.

They have an incredible diversity of flours for sale.

So many dried fruits! I've never seen dried mulberries. They're expensive because they're hard to harvest and process, but in June mulberry trees in the city's parks poop fruit like its going out of style.

Dried citron halves!

Rose Syrup, Rose Water, Orange Blossom Water, and more!


The spice room. Nuff said.

Anything purchased here is sure to please the historian, cook, or gastronome in your life.  But if you’re still at a loss, sign up for the Brooklyn Brainery’s DIY Gifts for Your Foodie Friends workshop, and make your own holiday treat!