Food historian Barbara Santich once referred to medieval gelatin specialties as “the glamor dish offered at the end of a banquet, bejeweled with sparkling crimson pomegranate seeds or golden spices.”
By the early-14th century, recipes evolved for increasingly complex gelatin-based dishes, such as Milanese physician Maino de Maineri’s concoction of fish boiled in wine, thickened with roasted bread soaked in vinegar and cut with cinnamon, cloves, and galingale.
These elaborate takes on an older staple flowed naturally from the growth of wealth and international trade and travel in Europe. The urge to build a reputation as a chef or wealthy family resulted in increasingly complex and pricey dishes.
Over the coming decades, chefs found they could make entirely clear gelatins. This allowed them to showcase intricately layered ingredients — such as expensive fruits and spices — or color the base for vibrant edible decor.
Gelatin primarily rose to become a status symbol because of the wealth implied by the time and effort required to make it regularly. Rounds of boiling and straining out impurities took more than a day to complete.
The 14th-century French chef Guillaume Tirel, a.k.a. Taillevent, explained in his Le Viandier that, “He who would make a gelatin is not allowed to sleep.”
Gelatin wasn’t expensive or hard to make on its own. Russian families of all classes have long prepared kholodets (savory meat cuts suspended in gelatin) as a winter holiday treat.
But serving elaborate gelatins frequently, rather than as a special holiday dish, was a sign of wealth: it showed you could hire a dedicated cooking staff to go through the arduous and smelly process of making it.
For more information, see https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/invention-of-gelatin-jello?utm_source=Atlas+Obscura+Daily+Newsletter&utm_campaign=e42a2850c3-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_04_25_Not_Philly&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f36db9c480-e42a2850c3-63044941&ct=t(EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_04_25_2019_Not_Philly)&mc_cid=e42a2850c3&mc_eid=8eeadcaf45