The Lost art of Aspic

Flavors pop in this raspberry walnut combination in honey aspic was made from gelatin, fruit, nuts, a teaspoon of honey, and a half cup of water.
Eggs, celery, dill, red peppers and salt flavor this savory aspic.

Recently I wandered into the Detroit Institute of the Arts to take in their newest exhibits. As always, they were impressive, but a trip to the third floor and the displays on late 17th century France left a lasting impression. Specifically, a computerized rendition of an aristocratic multicourse meal and the use of aspic in nearly every course had me wondering–what ever happened to aspic? The last I’d thought of it was a 70s album titled Lark’s Tongue in Aspic--the title being a reflection of the enormous waste associated with the greediest people consuming an esoteric portion of beautiful creatures.

A trip down aspic memory lane reveals much about this touted dish, which fell from aristocrat grace as soon as it evolved into Jell-O. Aspic is a gel made from boiled bones or shells. Veal, pigs, and seafood were popular sources of aspic. Aspic making was a time consuming process back in the day but provided a collagen rich medium to suspend and preserve savory and sweet items. Chemically, the bones are broken down into collagen fibers which hook up with each other, not as bone strands but as a cross linked gel. Click here for more information and drawings. It’s a little like making slime or Silly Putty, but this process is much older and unlike the slime or putty–which you’d never want to eat– gelatin is full of useful amino acids. It’s nutritious.

Aspic artistry lent itself to colorful displays that were bursting with flavor–and zero carbs holding it together. It could even be applied to individual bites as a thin preservative coating because aspic seals out air and bacteria.

Along with the aspic came the mold, and the gorgeous display of a shimmering aspic packed with a mixture of delights. Even into the 60s, when aspic gently fell into unpopularity, these molds were proudly hung in the kitchen of many homes.

According to this excellent article, aspic inched towards mass production and lost snob appeal when chemist Peter Cooper devised dried, prepackaged, easy to dissolve gelatin in 1845.

Fifty years later, he sold his patents to a cough syrup company. The owner advocated this as a dessert base and his wife developed the sugary version named it Jell-O. It didn’t take off as a product until it was sold to a more savvy businessman in the early 1900s. Once aspic became Jell-O and widely sold, aspic faded into near obscurity. Now people take collagen powder to restore their skin when they could easily be embracing the age old art of aspic. Does gelatin aid digestion? Many experts think it does. Other virtues attributed to gelatin include better skin elasticity and increased bone strength.

If you want to make your own aspic which looks like a horrific process, here’s a site with a recipe.

For more information on Jell-O and its history, go here.

There are plenty of aspic recipes out there. Tomato aspic is a Southern dish. It looks like something to serve on Halloween but I’m sure it’s healthy.

A new aspic enthusiast, I prefer to start with packaged sugarless gelatin and add my own inspiration. Your creation will set up in about 4 hours is surprisingly filling and satisfying. Happy aspicing!

Late Century Foods–colors and textures of the past

Oh the 20th century. It truly was a brave new world when it came to what people ate. No matter if you are writing about it, reminiscing, or learning about the past, there are some foods that are no more but stand as icons of the times. The late 20th century was anything but drab. Some even credit LSD for the love of color and novelty that marked this era of history. People not only wore color and texture, they ate and drank it.

What are some lost foods of the 20th Century? I’ve assembled a list.

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Whip N Chill

This, along with Jello-1-2-3  was a gelatin that separated into layers like a mousse. Apparently it could be made into lots of things and is one of those products that just goes to show that in the 1960s, people would eat just about anything.

Space Food Sticks (click link for advertisements)

These snacks were made for astronauts in the 1960s and could be commonly found on shelves until the 1980s. These rubbery sticks of food evolved into energy, protein, and breakfast  bars. Since I’m never in the mood for breakfast, I’ve loved these sticks and their modern versions. However, the recipe and the nutrition label makes them seem less stellar than I remembered.

Team Flakes (even used as a chicken topping) I loved these and I’m sure they powered me through graduate school along with Space Food Sticks. I wrote a story in which the naughty protagonist and her pets, who later killed her boss, ate Team Flakes. The big deal about Team flakes was that they stayed crunchy in milk so that you didn’t have to eat quickly. Team Flakes, I miss you!

 

Team

Jello 1-2-3

Again, a dessert that made shimmery layers of color and texture. This one came along on the 70s.

Ecto Cooler

I think that one of my daughters drank this instead of eating for many years. It’s from the 1987 so not too distant from everyone having the Internet which means  many recipes for it exist. (It’s basically tangerine lemonade.)

Fizzies

These were tablets like Alka seltzer only when dropped in water, they made a drink. People claim it wasn’t that tasty but in the 50s when they began, kids were not as highly sweetened as they can be today. In fact, these had no sugar. Too bad they had sodium cylamate.

If you are what you eat, people in the second half of the 20th Century were quirky, colorful, crunchy, and artificial. What lost foods do you remember?

 

Alpine Chicken & An Easy Variation

mom-on-horse
Foolish or daring? Mom–without a helmet– jumps a horse for a publicity photo (for the horse).

Certainly there is a story behind the Alpine name but I don’t know it. This was a favorite of my mom and a dish I make once a year to remember her. Topped with cashews and crushed potato chips and making use of the ubiquitous canned mushroom soup, this is most definitely a mid-century dish.

Alpine Chicken

4 cups cooked cut up chicken

2 cups chicken broth

2 cups celery

1 cup mayonnaise

2 cups cheddar seasoned croutons

1 onion, chopped

2 tsp chopped pimento

4 tsp chopped green pepper

2 cans cream of mushroom soup, undiluted

1/2 lb sharp cheddar cheese in small cubes

2 cans sliced water chestnuts, drained

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

1 tsp thyme

1 tsp sage

Mix all ingredients well in a large bowl. Put into an 11 x 15 pan. Top with crushed potato chips and 1 cup cashews.

Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Serves 12.

***

A variation of the above is simply called “Brunch dish.” It’s easy and features Velveeta cheese which is cheese with extra whey, maltodextrin (sugar/food starch),  some preservatives, and natural coloring.

Brunch Dish

1 can 10 1/2 ounces cream of chicken soup

2 cups cooked chicken breasts cubed

1 cup Velveeta cheese cubed

1 1/2 tbsp onion chopped

5 slices of bread cubed-crusts too!

1/2 cup mayonnaise

3 eggs–slightly beaten

1 small can of mushroom pieces

1 tbsp chopped pimento or green pepper

1/8 tsp each garlic salt, celery salt, and poultry seasoning

Combine all ingredients but the eggs. Gently fold in eggs. Pour into a 9 x9 greased pan.Refrigerate over night. Bake at 325 for 45 minutes.

Recipe can easily be doubled and put into a 9 x 13 pan–increase baking time to one hour.

Note: I made the “brunch dish” yesterday and realized that I had never in my memory purchased Velveeta and had no idea where it was in the store. I had to ask and it was with the pizza ingredients. I served it to some of the grandsons and one loved it, one found it unsettling that the ingredients were stuck together with “weird cheese,” and the one who never eats tried a small portion of it and ran off to play on the swing set. It was easy for the toddler to eat as he  practiced using utensils and I’ll consider serving it when I have my dad– who has Parkinson’s– over for dinner.