Monday, August 10, 2015

Felicity's Raspberry Flummery

Who said molded desserts were just from the 1950's?

August is usually my least favorite month of summer. Everything gets soupy and humid, and historically, August was the month of scrambling to get your summer homework assignments done before the first day of school. These days, it's more the heat than anything else that gets frustrating, but so far, our last month of summer (September doesn't count, okay) has been relatively cool.

But for those of you who aren't as fortunate, we tried out an interesting dessert that doesn't show up on many banquet tables after the early 19th century. Although a dish called flummery gained popularity in Australia after World War II, this colonial version is pretty different, and has more in common with a molded gelatin than a mousse. I wasn't quite sure if I was going to like it or not, but it turned out to be a pleasantly simple, tasty treat to enjoy on a warm afternoon, and probably would have felt even better if I was wearing the outfit Felicity's got on!

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that keeping cool during the 18th and early 19th centuries wasn't easy. With no air conditioning, no easy access to ice and all the heavy clothing you were expected to wear, people had to get creative when it came to beating the heat. If you were lucky enough to be as wealthy as someone like Thomas Jefferson - or in a more modest sense, someone like Felicity's grandfather - you might have an ice house on your property, which allowed you to store things like butter, vegetables and other perishable food items for a little longer. Ice would be harvested during the winter months and carefully stored to help keep the temperature inside the building down. Fun fact: Monticello has records proving that one winter's supply of ice could last until October. This ice could then be used to create dishes like ice cream, or to help chill dishes like flummery!

Colonial and post colonial flummery is very similar to more modern gelatin, generally made with plant based thickeners rather than animal fat. According to Felicity's Cook Book, although it was usually a sweet dish, it could be colored with different products that are a bit more savory - to make it green, you'd use spinach leaves, and to make it blue, you'd use violets! Cooks would also pour the mixture into molds, proving again that people's fascination with jiggly molded sweets goes back a lot longer than the Jell-O we're familiar with today.

It turns out flummery is actually very simple to make, at least according to American Girl chefs. The recipe in Felicity's Cook Book requires three cups of raspberries, but I assume you could substitute with different berries if you have a particular aversion to these.

Once they're washed, they go in a sauce pan with 3/4 of a cup of water and get placed on the stove over medium high heat.

Your berries get covered with the lid of the sauce pan, and in theory need to be left more or less unattended for ten minutes while you mix up your dry ingredients. The recipe says to give them a stir once or twice while they cook, but that's about it.

I say "in theory", because my berries kept trying to boil over, even when I dropped the heat really drastically and tried to just let them simmer. On the plus side, they didn't stick to the pan, and I did manage to get my dry ingredients measured out and mixed up while they cooked.

I turned the heat way down and poured in a mixture of one cup of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and six tablespoons of cornstarch. This gets mixed in and cooked together for about ten minutes, or "until the mixture has thickened."

It was pretty cool to watch it thicken up while it cooked, and it only got thicker and thicker as it cooled off. It's best served up in any nice glass bowls you have, or poured into molds and chilled, then dumped out onto a pretty serving tray, just like you'd do with a molded gelatin dessert today!

Sticking it in the refrigerator for a while is what really made the difference. Before it was really chilled, it just seemed like very thick jam, but once you let it sit in a really cold environment for a while...

It got super thick and held its shape very well! I was even able to turn the bowl on its side without any of it falling or dripping out. Turning it upside down wouldn't have worked, though - I'd just have a dome shaped thing of flummery on my kitchen table!

Overall, I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. Raspberries are one of my favorite berries, but I was a little worried the cornstarch might make them taste unpleasant, or somehow kind of cancel out the fresh berry flavor, and it really didn't. This tasted very fruity, although those who are a fan of tarter raspberry products might want to try experimenting in reducing the sugar content. This was definitely sweet! I also liked the texture and flavor the seeds provided and definitely wouldn't have strained them out if given the choice. I feel like that would have made this a little too one note, or more like a jam or jelly than it already was.

That said, eating a whole bowl of this was a little much. I wish I had smaller serving glasses to put it in, because it started to feel a little overwhelming after a while. I feel like if it hadn't been as sweet as it was - and I'm not usually one to complain about sweet desserts! - it might have been more fun to eat a large portion of. My mom felt like you'd need to spread it on something to really enjoy it, which I can definitely see. It probably would taste good on bread or some kind of tea cake!

The only other caution I'd have here is being careful to mix really, really well when adding in your dry ingredients. I definitely noticed a few tiny pockets of cornstarch that hadn't quite been mixed in properly, and while it wasn't really bad (you could kind of just swallow them, and biting into them didn't produce a super bitter taste or anything like that), texturally it wasn't awesome.

At the end of the day, though, I'm counting this one as a success. It only took about half an hour to make, required minimal clean up, and resulted in something pretty darn tasty! Ever since the incident with the pumpkin pudding, I've felt a tiny bit gun shy when trying recipes from Felicity's Cook Book, but this is another one that I'd actually make again. Guess I should go into the next recipe I try with a little more confidence!

And maybe we should try this with blackberries or blueberries next time!


  1. Hah, we both complained that we don't like August.

    Is Felicity's dress from Colonial Williamsburg? I think that's the one I don't have.

    1. It is! But it's not one of the ones on the website. I picked this one up a couple years ago during spring break. They've got a lot more variety in the museum gift shops than they offer online, but I'm definitely eyeing the ones you picked up for Felicity and Elizabeth! The patterns are so nice.

    2. Sometimes they pop up on eBay! Searching "Williamsburg doll" has gotten me some interesting results.

  2. I've always wondered what flummery is! It looks really delicious! I'll have to give the recipe a try (wonder if it'll be good with blueberries?) when I get the time!

    1. Ooh, let me know if you give that a try! It (in theory) sounds delicious.

  3. Felicity looks beautiful in her new dress. The flummery looks tasty, too.