23 Mar 2011

The Invention of Mousse

What was your iconic party food as a child?
Party dresses: my big sister and me 1961

Mine was ‘mousse’: the whisked concoction of Rowntree’s jelly and evaporated milk that my mother made. She filled stiff, waxed paper jelly dishes with it for birthday parties,  glass dishes for Sunday teas, or used it to make a quick trifle topping, pouring it over the jelly-set swiss roll and tinned fruit instead of the layers of custard and cream. After leaving it in the fridge for several hours it set stiffly around the million air bubbles added by a furious session with the rotary whisk. When you pushed your spoon in it made a sound that was a cross between a squeak (the noise jelly made) and a squelch (the noise of custard).

There was strawberry mousse and orange mousse but I preferred the strawberry. The tang of orange set into sweet milk just didn't taste right to me and I’m still a bit resistant to orange combined with anything creamy today.

The original 1952 Prestige Rotary Whisk
and glass jelly dishes.
In a recent cloud of nostalgia I bought a new hand rotary whisk, a Faringdon 30cm 'Fouet rotatif' with stainless steel blades, but my mother still has and uses the same whisk that Uncle Michael bought her as a wedding present 58 years ago: a Prestige model with a dark wooden hand-rest and handle. It made the mousse, it beat eggs to a yellow cloud, and it took the lumps out of the gravy on Sunday morning if I’d added the potato water too quickly to the fat, flour and Oxo cubes.

But despite its usefulness the rotary whisk along with the other sharp and awkwardly shaped kitchen utensils, (the silver carving knife, the potato peeler and masher, the turned metal skewers), was still one of the bad men in the country of Cutlery, the game I played in my head while wiping dishes. It was down to me, armed only with a tea-towel, to save the lives of the ordinary people: the knives and forks (fathers and mothers), teaspoons (the kids), and the deep-bowled tablespoons (grandmothers) who were so old and slow I was forever rescuing them at the last minute and delivering them to the safety of the cutlery drawer.

I believed that the invention of mousse belonged to our family. No-one else’s mother on Sandfields Estate made it. But in her book, Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights, Sophie Dahl gives a recipe for ‘Clover’s Carnation milk jelly’ in honour of her younger sister. The brand of evaporated milk available at our local Co-op (pronounced ‘kwop’ in south Wales) was Ideal and I think that ‘Ideal milk jelly’ just caps Miss Dahl’s pretty alliteration. Listen to the glee in its long second syllable and the conviction in its name: this milk really is the best.

Ideal Milk Jelly aka Sandfields Estate Strawberry Mousse

Sadly, I could not find Ideal evaporated milk in any supermarket, so I plumped for an 'own brand' rather than surrender to Carnation. You, of course, are not expected to display such staunch loyalty.

What you need:
1 packet of strawberry jelly
half a large can of evaporated milk

What you do:
Break up the jelly into a jug or bowl capable of holding at least 1 pint of liquid (the whisking will increase the quantity).

Add enough boiling water to the jelly cubes to make half a pint and stir until all the lumps dissolve.

Frothy jelly and frothy evaporated milk.
Leave it in the fridge until it begins to set. It'll probably take about half an hour but you can tell it's ready when the jelly sticks to the sides of the bowl when you swish it around.

Set upon the jelly with the rotary whisk until it's very frothy then, in another larger bowl, whisk the evaporated milk to an equally frothy state.

Pour the jelly into the milk and whisk again until it's all one frothy homogenous mix.

Pour or scoop into jelly dishes and leave to set fully in the fridge for at least 2 to 3 hours.

Three mousses: strawberry,
strawberry with a blackcurrant top and
blackcurrant.
You can play with different flavoured jellies and make layers in glass dishes but make sure your bottom layer is firm enough before you add another or your mousse will be far from ideal… sorry, I couldn’t resist!

I made strawberry with a blackcurrant top, which was decidedly paler than I anticipated, but very pretty, very girly.


Hungry Writing Prompts
  • Write about a birthday party.
  • Write about a domestic object from your childhood.
  • Write about a childhood game.
  • Write about a belief you had that was subsequently shattered.
  • Write a page of words that you like the sound of.