Many of us have grown accustomed to instant, flavoured, Jello along with the simple instructions of adding, and dissolving, one packet of flavoured gelatin in a cup of boiling water and then stirring in a cup of cold water, stirring it and then letting it set in the fridge. This is easy, it can be done as a nearly last minute dessert (only need time to let it set) and it takes little thought apart from adding various ingredients and knowing not to add things like fresh pineapple to it (this will prevent it from setting).
So, yes, that’s easy enough so what happens when we come across recipes like this:
Gelye de chare.
“Take caluys fete, and skalde hem in fayre water, an make hem alle the whyte. Also take howhys of Vele, and ley hem on water to soke out the blode; then take hem vppe, an lay hem on a fayre lynen clothe, and lat the water rennyn out of hem; than Skore (Note: Scour) a potte, and putte the Fete and the Howhys ther-on; than take Whyte Wyne that wolle hold coloure, and cast ther-to a porcyon, an non other lycoure, that the Fleysshe be ouer-wewyd (Note: See other Cookery, No. 174, wese) withalle, and sette it on the fyre, and boyle it, and Skeme it clene; an whan it is tendyr and boylid y-now, take vppe the Fleyshe in-to a fayre bolle, and saue the lycoure wyl; and loke that thow haue fayre sydys of Pyggys, and fayre smal Chykenys wyl and clene skladdyd and drawe, and lat the leggys an the fete on, an waysshe hem in fayre water, and caste hem in the fyrste brothe, an sethe it a-3en ouer the fyre, and skeme it clene; lat a man euermore kepe it, an blow of the grauy. An in cas the lycoure wast (Note: Waste) a-way, caste more of the same wyne ther-to, and put thin honde ther-on; and 3if thin hond waxe clammy, it is a syne of godenesse, an let not the Fleyshe be moche sothe, (Note: boiled) that it may bere kyttyng; than take it vppe, and ley it on a fayre clothe, and sette owt the lycoure fro the fyre, and put a few colys vnder-nethe the vesselle that the lycoure is yn; than take pouder of Pepir, a gode quantyte, and Safron, that it haue a fayre Laumbere coloure, and a gode quantyte of Vynegre, and loke that it be sauery of Salt and of Vynegre, fayre of coloure of Safroun, and putte it on fayre lynen clothe, and sette it vndernethe a fayre pewter dysshe, and lat it renne thorw the clothe so ofte tylle it renne clere: kytte fayre Rybbys of the syde of the Pygge, and lay ham on a dysshe, an pulle of the lemys of the Chykenys, eche fro other, and do a-way the Skynne, and ley sum in a dysshe fayre y-chowchyd, (Note: Y-couched; laid) and pore thin (Note: Thine) gelye ther-on, and lay Almaundys ther-on, an Clowys, and paryd Gyngere, and serue forth.”
(From: Two 15th century Cook Books)
Isinglass or Gelatine Jelly
“3oz isinglass or gelatine
2 qts cold water
Bring quickly to a boil, boiling very fast till the liquor is reduces one-hald’ carefully remove the scum as it rises, strain it through a jelly-bag and it will be ready for use. If not required very clear, it may be merely strained through a fine sieve, instead of being run through a bag.
Rather more than 1/2 oz of insinglass is about the proper quantity to use for 1 qt of strong calf’s food stock, and rather more than 2 ozs for the same quantity of fruit juice. As insinglass varies so much in strength, it is difficult to give exact proportions. The laarger the mould, the stiffer should be the jelly; and where there is no ice, more isinglass must be used than if the mixture were frozen.
This forms a stock for all kinds of jellies, which may be flavoured in many ways.
The above, when boiled, should be perfectly clear, and may be mixed warm with wine, flavourings, fruits, etc., and then run through a bag.”
The Complete Practical Confectioner, 1890
This is likely not something you are going to prepare last minute and if you’re in a kitchen with staff consisting of one cook and help that is very unfamiliar with the dishes, it’s not going to be an easy production which means we might be less likely to go through with a gelatin dish. However, apart from drying it out and reconstituting for later use, you can at least prepare a concentrated stock ahead of time, taking a little aside to check how much extra liquid you can add (just water will do) and still allow it to set. Note: if you leave it uncovered in the fridge, it will concentrate more as it dehydrates more.
This picture shows some flavoured JELLO, some clarified gelatin and non-clarified Isinglass gelatin. The first two examples seem to produce a heavier and firmer gelatin but it could also be that the isinglass solution was just not as concentrated as it did get a little more firm over time. To me, the easiest way to deal with gelatin is to make up a clarified stock ahead of time and refrigerate, even if it’s just making it a week ahead to save time before you add all the other ingredients you want such as wine, spices and so on. Just reheat it until liquid and add what you need while it’s still in liquid form. Do not worry about ruining the gelatin by boiling and refrigerating it, this picture is the from the same batch after reboiling and refrigerating several times. The firmness is more or less the same though I did add water over time as some was lost to re-cooking and dehydration in the refrigerator.
Another viable option for those really pressed for time or in need of more refrigerator space, is to freeze it. Yes, I do realize that if you let frozen gelatin thaw, it will not be the same as before you froze it and it’s even a decent way to separate liquids from the gelatin, however, it is still usable. All you have to do it reboil it and re-set it (this is a good time to add whatever you need to add at this point). The pictures below show some prepared gelatin I froze and the same stuff after it was boiled and allowed to set.
As you can see, gelatin can handle a lot of abuse so it’s quite fine to make up batches well ahead for future functions, just so long as you’re just making your base product. A fancy moulded dessert, or object for show, isn’t going to improve with time so that should not be made too many days ahead.