Feeding Your Invalid in the 19th Century 10: Calves’ Feet Jelly

Everyone in Victorian England knew that calves’ feet jelly was good for you. Rich people ate it, sweetened, colored and adorned with ice cream or fruit, as a dessert. Poor people had it carried to them by charitable ladies like Laura Fairlie Hartright. Sick people ate it to build up their strength. This recipe is from that pillar of Victorian cookery, Mrs. Beeton.

Calves’ feet are not always on offer at the grocery store, and you may have to seek them out at an ethnic grocery. The key step is the clarifying of the stock with the eggshells and whites. Otherwise the jelly comes up opaque — if you can live with this (or if you’re just carrying the jelly to the denizens of the workhouse) you can skip it. Note the cunning of tying the cloth to the legs of a kitchen chair reversed! You can tell that Mrs. Beeton has actually made this recipe.

Ingredients: 2 calves’ feet, 5 pints of water, 1/2 a pint of sherry, 1/4 of a pint of lemon-juice, 6 ozs of loaf sugar, the rinds of 3 lemons, the whites and shells of 2 eggs, 1 inch of cinnamon, 4 cloves.

Method: Wash and blanch the feet, and divide each one into 4 pieces. Replace them in the stewpan, add the water, and boil gently for 6 hours, skimming when necessary.  Strain and measure the stock, and if there is more than 1 quart, boil until reduced to this quantity. When cold remove every particle of grease, turn the jellied stock into a stewpan, and add the lemon-rinds, pared off in the thinnest possible strips, the lemon-juice, sherry, sugar, the stiffly-whisked whites and crushed shells of the eggs, and the cinnamon and cloves.  Whisk until boiling, then draw the stewpan to the side of the fire, and let the contents simmer for 10 minutes.  Strain through a scalded jelly-bag, or scalded tea-cloth tied to the legs of a chair reversed, and turn into moulds rinsed with cold water.  Turn out when firm, and served. Takes 12 hours to make.

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