One of the fascinations of old cookery books is the way they reflect the social history of their time. A few years ago I came across a copy of The Philadelphia Cookbook of Town and Country, written by a certain Mrs Anna Wetherill Reed, and published by Barrow & Co. of New York in 1940.
In The Philadelphia Cookbook, Mrs Wetherill Reed gives us useful suggestions for "Supper After the Opera", "A Colonial Dinner on Washington's Birthday", "A Formal Dinner for a Debutante", "Luncheon Before the Spring Races", "Luncheon on the Terrace After Swimming", "Dinner for a Well-to-do Bachelor Uncle", and slightly bizarrely, a "Gay Nineties Dinner for Grandma on Mother's Day". I'm sure you're getting the drift, if not already crooking your little finger.
But slightly surprisingly, there are masses of practical recipes in there that you could easily make today without raising an eyebrow. So often old cook books fail miserably in this area; especially for some reason if they were published in the early 1970's, and written by a one Mr. Vincent Price. Picked at random (and in no particular order) we have: Hell Fire Stew (that's really devilled Navarin of Lamb with Worcestershire sauce), Veal and Ham Pie (recipe kindly provided by The Philadephia Club), Mushroom Filling for Wild Duck, Maryland Mint Julep, Welsh Rabbit a la Yale Club, Dandelion Salad and Frizzled Beef a la King (recipe most kindly provided by The Cosmopolitan Club).
I quite liked the look of Jellied Essence of Tomato. First, you soak a leaf of gelatine in cold water. Next you heat up strained tomato juice, clarified chicken stock, a piece of lemon rind and the juice of half an onion. You add the dissolved gelatine, and stir it around, until it is well mixed in. Finally, you strain it, season with salt and a dash of cayenne pepper, turn it into a wet mould, and chill.
Okay, it's a trifle weird, I admit- but don't you think it might be a good base for something slightly more up to date and of greater interest? I would definitely use a clear and delicious tomato consommé (tomato pulp and a bit of sea-salt placed in a sieve, and left to drain overnight in the 'fridge), go a bit easy on the gelatine (to avoid the rubber effect) and get rid of the onion juice (what on earth was that all about?).
Instead of turning it into moulds, I suggest it would look better in ramekin dishes, and I think it definitely needs something juicy suspended in it. Crayfish Tails? They would work very well with the slightly spicy tomato. Maybe it needs to be slightly spicier? What about a dash of Tabasco? Does anyone out there in cyberspace have any bright ideas? This could be the birth of a famous new dish...