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.