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My dad recently had a throat operation, which meant he has needed to eat soft and easy to swallow things. My mum recommended jelly, having had a operation in the same region. I wanted to make one that the whole family could eat, which meant looking for a product that doesn't contain beef gelatine or non vegetarian colourings. I found what I was looking for in a local health food shop - Just Wholefoods Raspberry Jelly crystals. I have bought a number of items from the Just Wholefoods company in the past, as they specialise in vegetarian foods made without unwanted additives. Many of their products are also organic, although as the jelly crystals aren't labelled as such, I presume they are not. I have previously tried a strawberry jelly mix but on the most recent occasion I opted for raspberry. You can also buy tropical and lemon variants. As you can tell from the product name, this jelly mix doesn't come in the familiar tablet that needs melting. Instead it comes in the form of crystals, which look a bit like lemonade crystals or pinky sugar granules. I dont' think there is any real advantage or otherwise to this format over the other, unless you want to use just a small amount of jelly. I remember my mum sometimes made desserts for us that used just a cube or two of jelly amongst other things, and it would have been more fiddly to measure out small quantities of the crystals. The crystals come in a strong plastic sachet that is best cut open. I found it too hard to pull it apart at the seams, and I had visions of it suddenly bursting open and showering my kitchen with powder. Thankfully, opening the packet was the hardest part of the preparation. All I had to do was empty the crystals into a jug, and then pour on enough boiling water too make it up to a pint. You are then required to stir the crystals until they dissolve, which took longer than I expected. Just when I thought I had get rid of them all and stopped stirring, more became visible falling to the bottom of the jug. Nevertheless, the whole process only took a couple of minutes. It was a pleasant experience as I was able to enjoy the strong, natural scent of raspberries coming from the jug. The crystals were pale when I first tipped them out, but as soon as they were covered with water, they became an attractive deep but vibrant pink. Only natural colourings are used, which makes the colour all the more appealing! Once all had melted, I had to simply tip the jelly into a mould and refrigerate it. I decided to use a traditional thick glass jelly mould, but you could also use a pudding bowl. The instructions did not give me an idea as to how long I should leave the jelly to set. This would have been annoying if I had wanted to have it ready for a particular time, such as a childrens party, but as I was making it in the morning for tea in the afternoon, I wasn't too worried. After an hour, the surface had set well and it seemed quite solid underneath. So I thoughtlessly turned it out, even though experience should have told me I had not left it long enough. It held it's shape beautifullly for a few seconds then slowly began collapsing on the serving plate. Luckily I remembered someone telling me that you could re-boil jelly that hadn't set properly, so I did. I then poured it back into the mould and left it alone for 2 and a half hours. This time it really was perfectly set. It slid easily out of the mould in one piece, and kept that way! When the time came to divide it up, it cut easily. I have to say it looked and smelled delicious. I had a small portion, courtesy of the patient, and I liked the natural taste. It is easy to tell exacty what flavour it is supposed to be but the overall taste was gentler than I thought it would be from the scent. It isn't too sweet, which is good if you want to combine it with something that is! Jelly isn't my favourite dessert, but I would have this one again, and my dad is working his way through the other flavours so he obviously enjoyed it. My main concern was how a jelly without the traditional setting agents would gel together, but I have learned that the crystals work just as well as gelatine, providing you are more patient than I was at first! I paid 95p for a 85g packet that makes a 1 pint jelly. You can buy the crystals in Holland and Barret for the same price, and some supermarkets, where they are in the free-from aisle usually. I would recommend them to anyone who doesn't want a jelly full of artificial colours and flavourings whether vegetarian or not. They are also suitable for vegans. [This review also appears on Ciao under the same user name, and on my friends veggie blog with my permission.]
I love this product. The big pull, though, for me is that it's vegetarian, and that was the sole reason I first tried it. Now, however , I wouldn't buy anything else. The crystals smell lovely - actually of raspberries which I have not found to be universally the case with raspberry jelly, and the same can be said for when you actually get to taste it. It is also so simple to make. You simply empty the crystals in to a jug, and top up with water. After that, it sets extremely quickly, and indeed the only thing to be wary of is that you can end up eating totally set, warm jelly - which is just not how you want jelly to be! Two tips I would offer: firstly, if you want to add fruit to the jelly use 2-4 fl oz less water than suggested (depending on how much juice is likely to come out of the fruit when it's warmed up by being in the hot jelly mixture), otherwise you end up with set jelly swimming in juice; secondly, if you have any fruit juice put this cold in the bottom of the jug and dissolve the crystal in that, and then top up with hot water. The crystals actually dissolve more quickly and easily than simply with the hot water.
Where have all the jellies gone? Because I wanted to review a product which I often use called "Just Wholefoods Jelly Crystals" I thought I would go off on a sort of nostalgic trip into my childhood first. Growing up in the 60s there wasn't much choice of ready made deserts in the shops at all, apart from Angel Delight, which stormed the bare market and sold in droves, when it first appeared. We used to chomp our way through sachets of the stuff in lemon and lime flavour, with a crushed up chocolate flake on the top. This would compliment the other staple pudding- jelly which if you were lucky would sit next to a slice of vanilla ice-cream from a brick, which I would be sent to the shop to buy. I would come home grinning in anticipation with my newspaper wrapped purchase at the thought of jelly and ice cream. Even better was the chance to prize off cubes of the block of Robertson's to eat them greedily before mum poured the boiling water onto it, and it would melt quicker than an ice cube in the Sahara. Then it would slowly set and mum would poke an eager finger into it announcing "it's done!" When ill this would be served on a tray in bed, and would slither down past angry tonsils, often with carnation milk and tinned peaches. Then there was the exciting rabbit mould I had which would delight my friends who came round to see my lovely red wobbly pudding, but sadly the manufacturers of jellies are going to have to pull a few rabbits out of hats to save this dying desert, as it seems no one is buying it much anymore. It is now claimed that tiramisu is more popular than tangerine jelly, which is incredible, but sad in a way, as jelly was for me anyway, a fond childhood memory. Sales are plummeting and what was once a favourite childhood treat is sadly no more a purchase for many. The reason may stem from the BSE scare some years ago when the risk of eating gelatine was highlighted- as it comes from animal products- namely the bones cartilage, tendons and skin to be precise. Now since March 1996 all gelatine used in this country is imported, so that risk has gone, but since going veggie over 30 years ago I won't eat many conventional jellies, because of the fact they contain the by products from slaughterhouses. Eating jelly now though doesn't need to involve consuming bits from animals at all- in fact lots of the jelly deserts now in supermarkets are made from alternative agents such as - agar agar (from sea vegetables) and carrageen (from seaweed), but if you want to make it at home quickly from animal friendly ingredients this is where my review of Just Wholefoods Vegetarian Raspberry Jelly Crystals comes in. I love these and have been buying them for years. Just Wholefoods is a lovely company and you can find them at www.justwholefoods.co.uk . They have been in business for over 20 years and are committed to making mostly organic foods. The jelly crystals are a staple they make and they contain: Raw Cane Sugar, Gelling Agents (Carrageen, Locust Bean Gum), Natural Raspberry Flavour, Citric Acid, Natural Colour (Beetroot Red), Acidity Regulator (Potassium Citrate) To make you just pour on a pint of boiling water stir till dissolved and there is your jelly! The crystals come in four flavours, lemon, strawberry and tropical and all are delicious. They tend to make a jelly which is softer than conventional and the raspberry flavour is intense and delicious. I sometimes add fresh raspberries to the jelly and if I do this I omit a little of the water as it can otherwise be too runny, and I wait until it starts to set before pouring them in. That way they don't all settle at the bottom. Best of all is to make a vegan desert with sponge soaked in sherry and covered in raspberries, followed by a layer of jelly. You can then put a layer of veggie custard on top, and when all has set top with veggie cream, and hundreds and thousands for a decadent trifle. Only 95p per sachet they are cheap and cheerful! It is a great way too to include lots of fruit in the diet for children as you can serve with it, or add them to it at the time of making. They are now widely available in the whole foods section of supermarkets and of course in health food shops. Quick and easy to have in the store cupboard and what I used to do when my children were little was to add some Just Wholefoods VegeBears which are like jelly babies but are vegetarian. For this I would wait again until the jelly was setting and then add them. It makes a lovely little teatime treat where you can have a race to save the drowning teddies! Now when I make it I drizzle Alpro Soya single cream over it and it is divine. I hope jellies are not going to die out-perhaps we should all break the mould and serve them up again. They are simple and delicious and for me anyway a lovely reminder of childhood.