It seems that no-one makes junket anymore. The milk-based dessert has gone the way of dodo-steaks and passenger-pigeon pie. Perhaps it is because the essential ingredient of a piece of calf’s stomach is not easy to come by these days? Even the modern supermarket version of neatly packaged, pastel coloured and artificially flavoured junket tablets are almost as impossible to find.
Modern junket – the sort made with flavoured tablets – is a little like the modern supermarket version of neatly packaged, pastel coloured and artificially flavoured blancmange. It is a lightly set, somewhat custardy dessert, supposedly easy to digest and therefore useful for the very young, the very elderly, and the slightly unwell.
Junket has two big differences from other pudding mixes: the milk must be slightly warm when it is made up, or it won’t set, and once the set pudding is broken up with the spoon, it quickly turns into a watery mess with lumps. The watery mess is whey, and the lumps are curds. Yes, folks, the original junket was ‘curds and whey.’ The magic curd-inducing ingredient is rennet, a digestive enzyme found in the mammalian stomach (in practice, usually that of the calf.)
In medieval times junket was a dish for the well-to-do, made with cream, sweetened with very expensive sugar, and flavoured with spices. By modern times it had become a cheap milk pudding. Throughout all this time – and still – curdling milk or cream with rennet or something similar was the first step in making cheese.
We had a seventeenth century recipe for ‘angeletts’ – a type of cream cheese made with ‘runnet’ several years ago, so today I want to remember with fondness - flavoured junket tablets. The recipes coe from A Dozen New Ways to Use Milk (a promotional booklet for a proprietary brand of flavoured junket tablets), circa 1920’s.
Junket Milk Shake.
A delicious milk drink can be made either by dissolving in cold milk and serving immediately, or by making junket in any flavour with skimmed milk, adding Junket to one-half the required amount of lukewarm milk in regular directions. Let it set until firm, then chill.
Beat with an egg-beater until smooth, and mix with equal quantity of cold skimmed milk.
Beat two eggs with 2 teaspoons sugar and gradually blend in a cup of hot milk. Add a pinch of salt. Cook in a double boiler until well thickened, then remove at once from the fire and cool to lukewarm. Warm slightly 1 ½ cups milk, add to the cooled custard and mix thoroughly. Add 2 packages of Vanilla Junket to custard mixture, stirring quickly for only one minute. Pour at once into dessert glasses. Let set until firm in a warm room
Place in ice-box to chill. This Junket custard is also delicious poured over stewed dried fruit cooked without sugar.
Quotation for the Day.
I'll make you feed on berries and on roots,
And feed on curds and whey, and suck the goat,
And cabin in a cave, and bring you up
To be a warrior, and command a camp.
William Shakespeare; 'Titus Andronicus' Act IV Scene II