Jolly Jelly, you know what? I'm writing a book!

One would think the dark ages were a dark time... Reading books like Umberto Eco's 'In the name of the Rose' certainly leads us to believe that it was.
But the fact is that there was a love for bright colors that can be witnessed in the illuminated manuscripts from that time. On the table brightly colored layered jellies were made by boiling pig's or cow's feet into gelatin. It must have taken the cook hours to prepare, deriving the colors from blood, berries, vegetables and Essex saffron, the jellies were decorated and scented as magnificent displays of the cooks talent.
Jellies weren't the desserts as we know them now, they would be savoury rather than sweet most of the time, sometimes even encasing whole fish for a dramatic effect. 
Gelee of fleshe -meat jelly- was a traditional Medieval dish and made by cooking pigs trotters and ears, calf's feet and chicken in white wine. The jus and fat would then be reduced until it formed a jelly and the meat served with it.
We still have meat jellies today in the form of 'aspics', covering pieces of meat, vegetables and sometimes eggs with gelatine made from beef bones.
In culinary school, where we are taught the classic French cuisine we had to prepare a seafood jelly which was a terrible waste of perfect seafood and we also used jelly to decorate meat and fish with delicately sliced vegetables to then lightly cover it in gelatine to protect it from the air. Perfect for when you are preparing a buffet but a little old fashioned if you ask me.
But it is very fascinating to think of it, that a medieval practice of encasing foods in jelly is still widely used today, centuries later. Now the sweet jellies are most popular, in bold colors and fun flavours and shapes, it is still a showstopper on your table as much as it was in the Middle ages.

Cherry and almond cake and a walk on Gold Hill in Dorset

As the weather suddenly changed from gloriously sunny to dreadfully grey again, I ventured out to beautiful yet misty Dorset to be a judge on the Great Taste Awards.
After seven hours on several trains I finally arrived in Shaftesbury, one of the highest and oldest towns in England. Shaftesbury, also known as Scaepterbyrg in the Domesday book was either built or rebuilt by Alfred the Great in the 9th century when he also founded the abbey where his daughter Ethelgiva would be the abbess. Although a Saxon settlement, there is reason to believe that a much older Celtic village named Caer Palladur used to exist on this hilltop. 

I walked up and down Gold Hill three times and sat on the cobbled street at the top of the hill to watch the evening spread it's cloak over the valley. After a walk I ended my day with a much needed pint of Chocolate Stout at a local pub and a plate of excellent Devon crab - with Hovis bread of course, as you do when in Shaftesbury. The town and especially Gold Hill has become famous for the evocative Hovis advertisement film in the seventies. The film was directed by Riddley Scott, whom you might know from films like Gladiator and featured a small lad pushing a bike with a basket laden with a loaves of bread up the steep cobbled street of Gold Hill on the tunes of Dvorak's 'New World' Symphony. The advert has been voted Britain's most popular advertisement of all time and shows the power of a good advertising campaign. It's a deceiving plot to convince the consumer that Hovis bread is something more artisan than just a factory made bread. It feeds on nostalgia, showing images of times gone by, suggesting the bread is still being made by the traditional method. It is not. It is made by the fast 'no-time dough' Chorleywood method using not only wheat flour but also a larger amount of yeast, emulsifier, stabiliser and Soya flour. Things that are hardly traditional.

This brings me back to the Great Taste awards and how important the Guild of Fine Food is in supporting artisan and 'real food' producers. We're turning back towards foods that are once more traditionally made with the best possible ingredients out there. Pasture fed beef is now a regular term as well as rare breed pork and raw milk yoghurt. We want quality for our pennies again, and we want to make a difference when we do our food shopping.