7.11.2015

A Gift Not Given

As a host and hostess gift for an imminent house party, we bought the coolest antique molds. Both of us thought they were charming, and knew our hosts would love them, too.

They are small, rectangular molds, each with a barn swallow embossed at the bottom. We both love swallows, a bird that reminds us of a magical day in San Gimignano, Italy, when the noon bells in many churches in that ancient fortified city began to ring. Suddenly, the sky above the silent and empty street was filled with the sonorous roar and clattering tintinnabulation... and startled swallows! They poured from the belfries to glide and swoop elegantly across the cerulean blue sky.

That memory clinched it; we couldnt part with the intended gift. No one besides us was getting those molds. We returned to the antiques shop and found another gift.

Upon getting home, Mark said he wanted to use them to make molded tomato aspic.

Aspic! You know; that old-fashioned dish served at ladies' summer luncheons? Adult Jell-O Jigglers? He had an unexpected craving. Perhaps it was stirred by memories of his mothers aspic, when, in his childhood, chestnut-breasted swallows nested annually among the beams of the old carriage house out back.

Aspic has gone quite a distance from its origins, now that commercially-prepared gelatin is regularly available.

When first made in the late 1300s, marrow bones were rendered to create a gelatin that was used to encase meats, poultry and vegetables into a loaf bound together by the semi-clear, flavorful, aspic.

The word "aspic" alone brings crinkled faces (even from people who have never tasted it),

Admittedly, there are some not-so-wonderful variations out there, made with lemon or lime Jell-O, or with a cream cheese layer, or dolloped with an ill-chosen commercial mayonnaise.

But, as for the standard served at a 1940s ladies' luncheon, we found we love it!

It is cool and refreshing on a hot summer day, and makes for an elegant first course or, yes, a light lunch, with or without the ladies in hats.

Here is our spiced version. Plain is lovely, too - you can simply omit whatever spices you wish or lack, to suit your taste.

~ David

Spiced Tomato Aspic

12 ounces tomato juice (low sodium is fine)
1 envelope unflavored powdered gelatin
zest if 1 untreated lemon
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 scant teaspoon dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce, optional
1/8 teaspoon celery seed
1/8 teaspoon dried ground mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground Aleppo pepper or a pinch of cayenne
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
large pinch Chinese five spice powder
large pinch ground coriander
large pinch ground allspice
olive oil, for molds

In a large bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the tomato juice with the gelatin; let stand for 5 minutes.

In a saucepan, combine the remaining ingredients except the olive oil and heat just until simmering. Add the hot mixture to the gelatin mixture and stir until the gelatin dissolves completely.

Lightly oil 4 molds or ramekins. Spoon gelatin mixture into the molds/ramekins, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Unmold the aspics onto plates and serve garnished with crisp lettuce or celery leaves. (If they don't unmold easily, dip the molds into hot tap water for 5-10 seconds and try again.)

Serves 4.

32 comments:

  1. Ooooh, I saw my first swallows this week, nesting in the entrance of a castle in County Durham! Fab molds, fab recipe! XX

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    1. We've seen lots of them here in Germany, Liz - aren't they elegant? Glad you like the recipe and molds!

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  2. The 1946 edition of "The Joy of Cooking" included 69 recipes for gelatin molds. You better get yourself a copy. Those molds deserve all kinds of delicious diversity. GREG

    PS You can always bring something made from the molds to your house party!

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    1. I have a first edition facsimile of the Joy of Cooking at home - I need to check its recipes for molds!

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  3. I think I'd frock up any day for a spot of spiced tomato aspic, David!

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  4. Hi David, your plating is so beautiful and elegant. What wonderful memories you have of the swallows, I would not have been able to give them away either.

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    1. Thanks, Cheri! I always say that "Presentation is 9/10s of the law!"

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  5. What a lovely dish! And I can see why you wouldn't want to part with the molds. I did keep wanting a little vodka with this however ;-)

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  6. Gosh, your posts often bring back old memories for me. Many, many years ago we were invited for dinner to the home of my employer at the time, a lovely English lady and her dapper Italian/French husband. For the first course, we were served "eggs in aspic." I had the sense to recognize the very unusual (to us) dish because I had always read a lot, everything I came across, history, cookbooks, anything about the UK, etc. The eggs in aspic were delicious. I think I managed to appear somewhat savvy although I was only 22 years old and pretty unexposed. I learned a lot from that lovely lady, who is now 83 years old.

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    1. That WAS very sophisticated for a 22-year old! Actually, it's sophisticated for any age! I have always wanted to make authentic eggs in aspic... you have inspired me, Caterina!

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  7. YUM! I totally need some gelatin in my life. I hear so many great things - and it's apparently wonderful for digestion! Need to "sign up"!

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    1. Good for digestion? I had no idea! Thanks for the tip, Gigi!

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  8. Lucky you in Germany! I have another blogger friend who is there now, too! I had a terrible aspic at a fancy French restaurant in London once, but it looked nothing like yours, and I'm sure tasted MUCH differently (it was like dead fish)!

    Love the molds and I don't blame you for keeping them! Enjoy the rest of your trip!

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    1. Thanks, Christina! Dear fish aspic does sound awful! Maybe you need to try this one! ;-)

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  9. Barn swallows remind me of my youth growing up on a farm in the Midwest. I loved how they would swoop through the air. Even more, I would love looking at their nests through a crack in the second floor of the barn seeing their eggs, then tiny chicks and then juveniles that would learn to fly on their own. I love your molds!

    I've never had aspic. Plenty of Jello (growing up in the Midwest where it is standard fare). I'm intrigued!

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    1. What sweet memories, Cali! Swallows' nests are so beautiful perched up high. We saw some in Germany recently, and we once again glad we kept the molds!

      Gosh. In my mine Jell-O = Midwest! But aspic might be a bit different for you!

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  10. Aspic, I think I have a few recipes for that in my mum's old cookbooks from England.
    I'm glad to see that Im not the only one who buys gifts and then keeps them for myself!
    Those little moulds are beautiful and I love swallows too, beautiful and graceful birds. I saw two just the other night snuggled in their nest.
    So, aspic, never tried it despite the many recipes I have for it! If you say it's good then it must be. I'll have to find some non pork gelatine first though.

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    1. Nazneen - I was thinking about the pork-ness of the gelatin I do think I want to make this some day with real beef bones, as I think it would be incredible.

      If you find any of your mother's recipes, feel free to share! :-)

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  11. never had tomato aspic before, sounds refreshing starter....
    Dedy@Dentist Chef

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    1. Dedy - you could make this very special and Indonesian-flavored! I would love to see how you would change the recipe!

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  12. David, I do not think that anyone would want to give these lovely vintage molds away - I certainly would have kept them all to myself, no doubt. Do you happen to know what we say around here: "Wo Schwalben nisten, da wohnt das Glück“ - "Where swallows build their nests, happiness lives". My beloved grandma used to say that all the time.
    Tomato aspic seems like the perfect summer "nibble" to enjoy in your garden.
    Have a nice Tuesday,
    Andrea

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    1. That is so beautiful, Andrea! I have committed your grandmother's saying to memory, and will think of you both each time I see the molds! Hope you are having cooler weather still! Liebe Grüße, d

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  13. Who can blame you for keeping the molds! Almost feel inspired to try making aspic now...

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    1. Thanks, Fiona! Hope the heat wave has broken over there now!

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  14. What gorgeous moulds and what pretty dishes they turn out. I would have kept them too😀

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    1. Thanks, Sherry! It seems I have lots of support in keeping those molds. They even live on my kitchen windowsill so I can see them every day!

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  15. Will be trying this tomato aspic recipe! Beautiful presentation. Good call on those molds! :)

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    1. Thanks, Marcelle! I am glad you stopped by C&L!

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  16. We stayed in a lovely apartment in Lourmarin called "Le Nid des Hirondelles," which means The Nest of Swallows (named for obvious reasons!) Your molds would be perfect for them, too! The recipe sounds wonderful, as usual, and photographed so artfully!

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Thank you for taking the time to leave me a note - I really appreciate hearing from you and welcome any ideas you may have for future posts, too. Happy Cooking!

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