3 cups bottled tomato juice
1 1/2 tablespoons unflavored powdered gelatin (1 little packets)
1/2 tablespoon sea salt salt
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seed
1 1/2 teaspoon dill seed
1 1/2 teaspoons spicy Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 black peppercorns
1 stalk celery, cut up
1 small onion, quartered
In a large, heat safe bowl or measuring cup, combine 1/2 cup of the tomato juice with the gelatin and let stand for 5 minutes. In a saucepan, combine the remaining tomato juice with remaining ingredients and simmer 10 minutes. Pour through a sieve (use a whisk to extract any last drops of liquid) over the gelatin mixture. Pour into 6-8 lightly greased ramekins. Refrigerate until set, about 3 hours.
When I was reading dozens of 1920s menus for fancy and simple luncheons and dinners, I came across a fair share of things suspended in or made into an aspic. I can’t say aspic is a terribly popular menu item anymore (although the Supersizers sure ate a lot of it during their journeys back in time) but I have had it, many times. Baltimore’s most genteel lunch spot, The Woman’s Industrial Exchange, had tomato aspic on the menu along with a regionally famous chicken salad and classics like deviled eggs. Somewhat blighted in more recent years (closing, reopening, repeat) it had been a fixture in Baltimore since the 1890s serving meals in the back Tea Room and sweets and handmade items by local women in the front. I had lunch there dozens of times over the years and saw more aspic being downed there than anywhere else. After the closing some other restaurants would feature a gussied up tomato aspic and other Industrial Exchange classics as part of a themed “Maryland” or “Baltimore” menu but it just wasn’t the same.
Due to my fondness for retro foods and the Exchange I’ve wanted to make my own tomato aspic for years now but never had an excuse. Enter the 1920s luncheon. I ended up loosely basing the menu to the meals I’ve had at Picnic in Nashville and the Woman’s Industrial Exchange here in Baltimore because they were so similar to what I found on the menus I read during my research. Another reason aspic was a perfect choice for the 1920s because that decade was the first to see wide spread ownership of refrigerators, making recipes like aspics, ice box pies, ice box cakes and gelatin-based desserts possible and very popular to make at home. What better way to show off your new electric refrigerator than with a dish that requires lengthy chilling to set?
The Industrial Exchange aspic did not have any chunks (of celery, pickles, carrots, etc) suspended in it unlike many recipes I came across so I knew I had to create my own recipe. Luckily, it wasn’t too difficult, although I admit to holding my breath until it firmly set up. Aspic is basically savory Jell-O made with plain gelatin and tomato juice. You could keep it completely unflavored beyond that but I found that adding some aromatics and then straining them out made for a much more flavorful aspic. It is amazing what a difference a short simmer withe the other ingredients did to the final product. Slightly pickle-y and with just a hint of heat, this aspic was a delight. Zippy and light, even aspic-skeptics will like this one.