A cookbook once led Britain straight to gel. In last weekend's Financial Times, Philippa Davenport inaugurated a two-part tribute to jelly fever with the following cry: "Rigidity is out." She traces the phenomenon back to "The Gentle Art of Cookery," a 1925 tome by Hilda Leyel and Olga Hartley that was later praised by the great cookbook writer Elizabeth David as "a small classic of English culinary literature." But David added a wobbly qualifier to her admiration: "It has to be admitted that Mrs. Leyel suffers from incipient jelly-mania." It's an ailment the British never completely recovered from, and now there's a new strain. According to Davenport, "Mousses and jellies are making a comeback at top tables, but they have been given a makeover."
Will the mania cross the Atlantic? Dana Cowin, the editor in chief of Food & Wine magazine, didn't sound too alarmed when Salon Books reached her at her office in New York. "Americans don't like things that wiggle or wriggle or dont exhibit signs of solidity," Cowin said, unless it's red Jell-O or tapioca. "But if we're talking about meats that release gelatins, I think that they could be having a resurgence. Oxtail, for instance, and oeufs en gelie are big. The thing about oxtail is that it oozes gelatin, but if it's good, you don't notice it."
Americans put off by such stuff can take pride in their own country's culinary contributions this July, when Harcourt Brace releases "Spam: A Biography." The fascinating and humorous history of the world's dodgiest food includes recipes to dress up the pink meat and even a few lyrics from old commercials:
In this day of hippies and space,
I eat Spam to keep up with the pace.
Whet your appetite?