Old-fashioned Thanksgiving Gelatin Pudding

Molded Thanksgiving Gelatine Pudding on a plate

I’ve always loved the days and days of cooking and baking in preparation for Thanksgiving. Homemade pies and more pies, a huge turkey with stuffing, candied sweet potatoes, homemade cranberry sauce. . .

My mother and grandmother used to also make fussy molded gelatin desserts (they called them salads) that took hours to prepare because it had to be made in layers where each layer was chilled until it set before the next layer was added. But, I’ve let that tradition go. Gelatin desserts have never been quite my thing. And, for many years they were out of style. People joked about gelatin desserts; and, quite frankly, I didn’t want to be teased about my cooking.

But this year is different. I’m roasting a chicken instead of a turkey, and might not make any pies. And, when I saw a recipe in a hundred-year-old cookbook for Thanksgiving Gelatin Pudding, I suddenly realized that there was something else I wanted to do differently this year. I wanted to make a fussy molded gelatin salad. The hours spent adding layers of gelatin would revive a tradition, and fulfil my need to spend time in the kitchen in preparation for Thanksgiving.

There was only one problem. The recipe for Thanksgiving Gelatin Pudding was the strangest molded gelatin recipe I’d ever seen. The recipe used unflavored gelatin and called for making homemade fig juice, which was mixed with coffee, to flavor the gelatin. The gelatin was then layered with chopped dates, raisins, and walnuts.

And, the old recipe also called for making a homemade custard sauce (another somewhat tedious cooking activity) to serve with the Gelatin Pudding.

The verdict: This rich Gelatin Pudding is very different from modern gelatin dishes, but it was good in its own unique way. And, the custard sauce was lovely with just a hint of caramel. To use my husband’s words, “This is better than I thought it would be.” I’m taking that as a compliment.

And, I had fun making the recipe. So the bottom line is that this recipe was a winner in more ways than one.

Here is the original recipe:

Recipe for Thanksgiving Gelatin Pudding
Source: Good Housekeeping’s Book of Recipes and Household Discoveries (1920)

I found it very confusing that the gelatin pudding part of the recipe called for “1/2 teaspoonful ground mixed spices,” but the actual list of spices was down in the custard sauce part of the recipe where it says, “For the mixed spices in the pudding use cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, cloves, and ginger.” Why weren’t the spices just listed in the pudding section of the recipe? And, there were five spices in the list, which doesn’t easily match the 1/2 teaspoon of mixed spices called for, since if 1/8 teaspoon of each spice was used, the total amount of  mixed spices would equal 5/8 teaspoon not 1/2 teaspoon (4/8 teaspoon). I decided to just use a scant 1/8 teaspoon of each, assuming that would be close enough.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Thanksgiving Gelatin Pudding

  • Servings: 12 - 16
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

1 cup dried figs, chopped

4 packets (0.25 ounce) unflavored gelatin

1 cup cold water

1 cup dark corn syrup

1/8 scant teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 scant teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 scant teaspoon mace

1/8 scant teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 scant teaspoon ground ginger

3 cups strong coffee

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 1/2 cups dates, chopped

1 1/2 cups raisins, chopped

1 1/2 cups walnuts, chopped

Put the figs in a saucepan, and cover with cold water, then heat using medium heat until the mixture boils. Reduce heat and simmer for 1/2 hour. Remove from heat and strain. There should be about 1 cup of fig juice. (Reserve the chopped figs.) If needed, add water to get 1 cup of juice.

In the meantime, put the 1 cup cold water in a bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin on top of the water, and let soak for 20 minutes.

Put the corn syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, cloves, and ginger in a large saucepan, and heat to boiling while stirring. Add the gelatin that has been soaked in water, the coffee, and fig juice. Bring back to a boil while stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice, and cooked chopped figs.

Wet a 9-cup gelatin mold with cold water, then pour a 1-inch layer of the gelatin mixture into the mold. Refrigerate until the molded gelatin in set (about 1-2 hours). (Keep the remaining gelatin at room temperature so it stays liquid.)

In the meantime, put the dates, raisins, and walnuts in a bowl, stir to mix.

After the layer of molded gelatin has set, add a layer of the date/raisin/walnut mixture (about 1/3 of the mixture). Pour gelatin on top of this layer, and refrigerate until firm. Repeat two more times.

To serve: Quickly dip the mold in hot water, then unmold onto serving plate. Serve with the custard sauce.

Custard Sauce

1 egg

1/2 cup dark corn syrup

1 tablespoon corn starch

2 cups milk

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Beat the egg slightly, then add the corn syrup and corn starch; beat until smooth. Set aside.

In the meantime, put the milk in a saucepan. Heat using medium heat until hot while stirring constantly. Then place a small amount (approximately 1 – 2 tablespoons) of hot milk into bowl with the egg mixture, stir quickly. Add this mixture to the hot milk and stir. (This helps prevent the egg from coagulating when the egg is introduced to the hot liquid.)  Return to stove and cook, using medium heat while stirring constantly until the mixture begins to thicken or coat a spoon. . Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla. Chill at least 3 hours.

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42 thoughts on “Old-fashioned Thanksgiving Gelatin Pudding

    1. I’ll take some of that cherry Jello with nuts, marshmallows and fruit cocktail. Similar gelatin salad were served at many family gatherings when I was a child.

  1. It is certainly pretty! The coffee part stymies me–was it noticeable in the flavor? It almost seems as if its color was more the intention? Cherry Coke Salad was our holiday gelatin!

    1. There’s a slight coffee taste, but it nicely complements the concentrated flavors in the dried fruits. I can’t quite image what Cherry Coke Salad would taste like, but I’ll take your word for it that it’s good. 🙂

      1. It tasted like a cherry coke, which back then, you could only get at the fountain counter in the drug store. Red jello, cherries and cherry juice, Coca Cola, and pecans.

  2. We had friends who every summer hosted a molded dessert potluck. It was a lot of fun seeing all those colors of Jello and varieties of shapes. I don’t think I would find a brown molded salad very appetizing. Think I will stick to tomato aspic.

    1. The molded dessert potluck sounds like fun. A brown mold salad is definitely different – but it would stand out in an array of gelatine desserts. 🙂

  3. I don’t believe that I ever heard of serving any kind of a gelatin mold with a sauce. My mother always made a lime jello salad with cream cheese and pecans for Thanksgiving and Christmas but we never ate jello any other time of the year.

    1. I also don’t think that I’ve ever previously seen a molded gelatin salad with a sauce – though it worked. I actually really liked the sauce in this recipe. It has a slight caramel flavor, and I might make it again if I need a sauce to put on other desserts.

  4. This gave me flashbacks to the horrors of my mother’s various Jell-O salads. More than 2 ingredients of which one is Jell-O and the other is a fruit and I’m out!

    1. There were lots of really creative gelatin recipes when we were young. It seemed like several gelatin salads or desserts were served at almost every reunion and family gathering.

  5. I really enjoyed hearing about your past with the gelatin puddings, Sheryl, and your resolve to try a new tradition this year. I liked seeing the old recipe, and also how you updated it. It looks beautiful and I’m impressed that you went through with it all. Wonderful accomplishment.

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