Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 20 min
Total time: 30 min, plus chill time
Yield: Serves 6
An English medieval feast traditionally included at least one jelly, usually combining both meat and fruit flavors. Not until Tudor times was a division made between the sweet and savory versions. Sweet jellies, often layered by color, were an important component of Tudor and Stuart "banquets," a word which, at the time, referred not to the feast itself but rather the often bizarre (by today's standards, at least) sweet course accompanied by entertainment. Pies opened to release the well-known four-and-twenty blackbirds or sometimes even frogs, which in the words of one seventeenth-century writer "made the ladies skip and shreek."
These brightly colored jellies were popular throughout much of fashionable Europe. Emphasizing color rather than flavor, they were used to create elaborate and decorative tablescapes depicting fish, flowers, and fruit in both landscape and still life tableaux. A glistening wine jelly on a pedestaled stand was often the centerpiece finale of a grand feast.
This Red Wine Jelly emphasizes both color and flavor. A grown-up dessert, it is tart and sophisticated due to the inclusion of red wine nicely rounded out by brandy. The whipped cream is a good counterpoint to the austerity of the jelly.
Darra Goldstein is editor in chief of The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, an 888-page reference guide to all things sweet. "The book is really a compendium of human desires, a cultural history of desire for things that are sweet and what it has caused in the world, in both the realm of pleasure and also of pain," she says.