With a population of less than 400, Smith Island, Maryland, lies in the Chesapeake Bay, accessible only by boat. It remains isolated from the rest of the world, yet preserved. Crabbers and fishermen still carry on the 300 year old tradition of harvesting from the water to support their families and their small community. Generations of fishermen’s wives toil away in their kitchens, making the most of the abundance of the bay, passing on family recipes and traditions.
Ms. Frances Kitching, an island native, owned one of the most loved inns and restaurants on the island. Her recipes are passed down from her grandmother. Her fame began when in the 1950’s she volunteered to cook for workers installing electric lines on the island. She later published a compilation of her recipes in 1981 simply titled Mrs. Kitching’s Smith Island Cookbook. Some of these time-honored dishes include stewed crabmeat and dumplings, pan-browned wild duck, cracker pudding, Smith Island ten layer cake, and pickled watermelon rind.
For the Food Maven’s Retro recipe challenge, finding a “wobbly” recipe (gelatins, aspics, molds, etc) from before 1985 was in order. I decided to make Mrs. Kitching’s Lemon Fluff. It’s ethereally light; it melts on your tongue! More so than ever, I found myself enthralled by the wonders of Jello.
When I recreated this recipe, I used lime Jello instead of lemon for a bit more tartness. The color reminded me of seafoam. The texture was that of mousse, but even lighter, and just as creamy. Best yet, the recipe is incredibly simple, my pet monkey could make it! This challenge definitely forced me to park myself in front of the Jello shelf (for the first time ever) in the baking aisle at the store. (When did there get to be so many flavors?? Anyway I’m certain I’ll be making more frequent stops here.) Most importantly, retro recipes are really just snapshots of a moment in time, the mood and the trends of the people of that era. It teaches us the origins of many of the dishes we eat today, and recipes like Mrs. Kitching’s teach us about good honest American food.
1 3-oz. package lemon jello (I used lime)
1 cup water
1 13-oz. can evaporated milk
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
Chill evaporated milk. Dissolve jello in one cup water. (my recommendation: use hot water) Let gel slightly. Whip evaporated milk (after chilling) until stiff. To milk, add sugar, lemon juice, and jello. Line shallow baking dish with vanilla wafers. Pour jello mixture over top. Crumble wafers on top and refrigerate until firm.