Virgin Recipe: Marzipan

“I know why we should go to D–‘s party,” Bryan announced a few nights ago.

Oh? Why?

“Because you can bring Jell-O.”

And there you have it, a pretty good sketch of our social life.

Actually, it’s not quite true that this is a “virgin” recipe. When I was a slip of a girl back in the wacky 1970s, my Auntie Kathy (all of my aunts were “auntie”, pronounced “AHN-tee”) taught me how to make this. It’s a simple recipe consisting primarily of shredded coconut and ground blanched almonds, bound together with sweetened condensed milk, and flavored with a little almond extract and a three-ounce package of Jell-O.

A very sticky pink pasteAuntie Kathy passed this on to me as a recipe for “strawberries”, and that’s what I made here. You can use other Jell-O flavors to produce marzipan of different colors that can be shaped into different kinds of fruits and vegetables, and I had originally intended to make a few different batches. The idea had a certain appeal, I think, because it reminded me of a bowl of wax fruit that my grandmother had that I used to covet* (yes, I was a weird kid), but once I’d gotten started with the strawberries, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. After the ingredients were combined, I found the resulting paste to be sticky and difficult to work with. As the pink goo accumulated on my hands, the paste would stick to them rather than cohering into balls that could be pinched and poked into strawberry-ish shapes, and I had to stop a couple of times to wash my hands for a fresh start.

According to the book, the recipe should make 36 pieces. Lacking the patience to make more, smaller pieces, I managed to get 29, which I decided was good enough. Anyway, the coconut gave a peculiar-looking hairy texture to the smaller ones – which, as it turned out, the tasters didn’t mind.

Closeup of "strawberry"

Shredded coconut makes this berry look a little hairy

They went into the fridge to chill overnight, and according to the book, they were also supposed to get dry. I was dubious. Auntie Kathy taught me to use a second box of Jell-O to coat the strawberries in the powder. I decided to go with the book to see what happened.** The candies were still a tad sticky by morning, but much better than they’d been the night before. I added the finishing touch, a cluster of “leaves” on the top of each using a store-bought tube of green frosting.*** After another couple of hours in the fridge, the strawberries were packed into a plastic container for transport to D–‘s house in TheMiddleOfNowhere, Massachusetts.

We weren’t really only going to D–‘s in aid of the Project, but I knew that the old science fiction convention crowd could be counted upon for some unfiltered opinions on my dish, provided I could get them to eat it.

There was a good amount of food at the party, and, hermits that we’ve been, I had nearly forgotten that at any party there are always people who will at least try, if not hoover up, practically everything on the table. About two-thirds of my strawberries were consumed. Two of the tasters were children who were strangely unenthusiastic considering that food so sweet and simple-tasting traditionally appeals to kids. Grown-ups’ responses ranged from “I can’t eat that, I’m vegetarian and that has gelatin in it”, to “Fantastic!”, to the comment from D–‘s husband G–, in a small homage to Douglas Adams – “These taste almost, but not entirely, unlike strawberries.”

"Berries" with icing leaves

The finishing touch – green icing from a tube

My bringing what I still think of as “Auntie Kathy”s strawberries” turned out to be a fitting sort of convergence, as the party was imbued with an air of nostalgia. We’ve known D– and some of the other guests for roughly 30 years, and there was talk of old times, and relaying stories to guests who were younger or newer friends. At one point the photo albums came out, and we got to look back in time to our younger, skinnier (and in Bryan’s case, clean-shaven) selves. It seems so long ago that we were that tribe of techno-hippies, all smooth faces and dark hair and tie dye.

Anyway, it turned out that Marzipan wasn’t so bad. Bryan and I finished off the last of the berries this evening while watching This Is the End.

* If I’m being honest here, I have to admit that I still covet that wax fruit. Yes, I turned out to be a weird adult.

** Not so much out of purist impulse as because the price of Jell-O has gone up by 50% in the last five years.

*** It has struck me repeatedly that using so-called convenience foods doesn’t make cooking all that much easier. The frosting-in-a-tube saved me maybe 15 minutes of work, and could not compensate for my lack of mad frosting skillz.

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