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
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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.

http://www.ahundredyearsago.com

Old Recipe for Mulled Fig Juice (Ginger Cordial)

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, December 5, 1911:  We are going to have an entertainment on the fifteenth, the Friday before vacation, and I’m to take part in a dialogue of no great length. Such bewildering problems as we are having in Algebra is enough to turn your head.

tea cup

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Apparently the students were going to put to put on a small Christmas play on the 15th –or at least say the parts of various characters. [An aside—When I think of a dialogue I think of the Abbott and Costello dialogue about the baseball players—Who’s on first, What’s on second, I don’t know’s on third—though it’s from a later time period.]

Maybe Grandma took a break from the bewildering algebra problems to make a calming hot drink.

I found an awesome recipe for Mulled Fig Juice (Ginger Cordial) while browsing through the December 1911 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine.

Mulled Fig Juice reminded me a little of Mulled Cider, but the taste is more nuanced and complex. I’d highly recommend it for holiday parties—or for a great hot drink after sledding or cross-country skiing.

Mulled Fig Juice (Ginger Cordial)

1/2 pound figs (I used mission figs.)

1/2 teaspoon allspice

Dash of ginger

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cloves

water

3 pints ginger ale (about 1 1/2 liters)

1 teaspoon corn starch dissolved in a small amount of water

Peel from an orange (for garnish)

Stew slowly together the figs, allspice, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and sufficient water to cover the other ingredients. When the figs are tender remove from heat and pour through a strainer.  (The stewed figs taste good, and can be saved and eaten separately.)

Return the juice to the saucepan. Add the ginger ale; and return to the heat; when hot stir in the corn starch dissolved in water. Continue stirring until it comes to a boil; reduce heat. Serve in small cups; garnish with orange peel.  [I used a vegetable peeler to remove some zest from an orange  in long wide strips, I removed any pith, and then julienned the zest into long narrow strips.]

Adapted from “Hot Drinks for the Holiday Season”, Good Housekeeping, December 1911