Jelly, sadly, has become a sort of Marmite thing. You like it or you don’t. I have experienced this problem when trying to sell savoury jellies. I ate a gelée de langoustines aux chanterelles in a long-gone restaurant in Paris – Le Dodin Bouffant – and rushed back to London and put it on the menu. To my amazement, it got a somewhat muted reception. When I opened Le Café Anglais, we perfected a beautiful oeuf en gelée – a perfect soft poached egg sitting in a limpid chicken jelly flavoured with a dash of Amontillado, flecked with tomato and tarragon and, at Nicky Haslam’s insistence, a little slice of ham on the bottom – and waited for the applause. I might still be waiting: after a few weeks, when the staff were thoroughly sick of eating the unloved jellies, we abandoned the idea.
I sort of understand. To the British, jelly – or jello to readers on the other side of the Great Divide – is sweet. To many, it is nothing more than a distant memory from children’s parties. It means a bit more to me. Sugar was still a relatively rare commodity when I was small and we had very few sweet things in the house, barring packets of concentrated jelly. It took dedication to enjoy those rubbery cubes of condensed artificial flavouring undiluted but I was the man for the job, sneaking into the larder and then hiding the evidence by burying the empty packets in the herbaceous border.
An authentic fruit jelly, of course, will use the natural pectin in the fruit as a setting agent. Since few fruits have sufficient pectin and so have to be cooked and reduced to a jam-like consistency, in Britain we have always cheated by adding gelatin. Despite my childhood proclivities, I do like my jelly to be delicate and to have a proper wobble.
I worry that sweet jelly has followed its savoury counterpart and gone out of fashion. It seems incongruous that in an era when food, among the fortunate, has never been less concerned with sustenance that anything as delightfully trivial as jelly should fall from favour. When a jelly is made with a decent rosé, flavoured with rose petals and packed with forced rhubarb and early strawberries, frivolity has never been more serious or grown up.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais
Rosé jelly with rose petals, rhubarb and gariguettes
Gariguettes are very fragrant early strawberries from France: not so sweet but aromatic and with good acidity, they are ideal in a jelly. Sweeter strawberries might benefit from a little lemon juice before going into a jelly. Serves eight.
250g thin forced rhubarb
250g strawberries, gariguettes or similar
375ml pale, dry rosé wine
100g caster sugar
1 tbs dried rose petals
4 leaves gelatin
Wash and cut rhubarb into lengths of 2cm. Place in the top compartment of a steamer and cook until just tender: this will probably take no longer than two minutes. It is important that they are cooked but do not collapse. Hull the strawberries and then drop into a bowl of cold water and remove immediately before rolling them on kitchen paper to dry. Cut any of the large strawberries in half. Once the rhubarb is cool, distribute both rhubarb and strawberries in eight glasses or one large glass bowl.
Bring the wine, water and sugar to the boiling point before adding the rose petals. Remove from the heat and allow the petals to infuse the syrup for at least 20 minutes. Soak the gelatin leaves in tepid water for 10 minutes. Bring the syrup back to a simmer, add the gelatin and whisk lightly to dissolve. Strain this mixture through a fine sieve and allow to cool. Pour the mixture over the fruit in the glasses and chill for at least two hours or overnight. Garnish with a little whipped cream and a strawberry.
Rowley’s drinking choice
As is sometimes the case, the wine used in the cooking is inappropriate. I would hesitate to serve anything unless it was intensely sweet, such as a Tokay or a Beerenauslese.