Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Lilyan Tashman’s Fruit Salad a la Jell with Vegan Variation

Welcome back! I’m cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay Cookbook but sometimes I take detours. This time, I’m using a recipe from a 1930s booklet for a jellied fruit salad. The star is a delightful supporting player from the silents and talkies.

(Catch up on all my past taste tests here.)

Lilyan Tashman charmed the socks off audiences with her sass, spunk and fashions (you can catch her in Manhandled, among other titles) but we have a lot of cooking stuff to cover, so let’s quickly move forward.

Tashman presents a molded gelatin recipe, something that has fallen out of favor in the modern world. I have spent the past month or so getting my gelatin game up to snuff and have amassed a nice little gelatin mold collection. Molded jellies are fun and, as it turns out, most people really enjoy them.

If you have only used prepared gelatin mixes (like Jello), you may not be familiar with blooming but it is a necessary step to ensure a smooth result.ย I took the additional step of melting the gelatin in the microwave (40-60 seconds) to make sure everything blended nicely.

Powder on water…
And after it has bloomed…

I used Meyer lemons because they’re milder and have a more nuanced flavor than regular lemons. If you can’t find them, I recommend substituting the juice of a tangerine for one of the lemons. Because lemon is THE flavor in this recipe, I highly recommend freshly squeezing your citrus as the difference is flavor is significant.

Mix it up!

Tashman has a variety of canned fruits (always use canned or cooked pineapple in gelatin or it will not set) in the recipe but I streamlined matters by using a can of drained oh-so retro fruit cocktail.

As an added bonus, I decided to try to this recipe in a vegan variation. I made an identical batch and swapped out agar agar powder for the gelatin. Because the lemon juice would be cooked, which meant that it would lose its lemony character, I also tossed in the zest of one of the lemons. (I did add the juice near the end of the cooking time but agar agar starts to set the moment it cools, so some heat is inevitable.)

Agar agar on the left, gelatin on the right.

Movies Silently’s Score: 3 out of 5 as-is.

I let the mixture thicken, added the fruit and waited for it to set. The agar agar version worked very well (though I did have a bit of trouble unmolding, not too bad) but the gelatin version was loose, incredibly loose. Gelatin should not look like this after 10 hours in a small metal mold and a cold fridge.

I’m melting!!!
What a world, what a world!
Who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness?
Ooooh nooooo…

Clearly, the acid in the lemons was too much for the gelatin. But… the flavor was amazing. Clean, pure lemonade flavor in a jelly package. And so I decided to do something that I have never done before. I decided to doctor the recipe to make it work. And as an added bonus, I decided to match the delicious, all-natural lemon flavor with fresh berries. I also made use of the quick set method to cut down on waiting time. Oh, and I’ll be sharing my vegan recipe as well.

Here are “slices” of the jelly side by side. Agar agar on the left, gelatin on the right.

Notes on Molds and Bowls: I purchased vintage aluminum molds from eBay for a few bucks apiece. These work very well for gelatin but stiffer agar agar does better in square or round cake pans. I haven’t tried it out in silicon molds yet but I have seen other chefs have excellent success with them. I just bought some adorable mini flower molds and mean to give them a whirl soon.

The mold for round 2.

I HIGHLY recommend using a bowl with a spout to mix your gelled desserts. Makes your life so much easier. For cooling the gelatin, a metal bowl works best because it chills more quickly in the fridge.

The Tweaked Berry Lemonade Jelly

Here is the result of my recipe rework. I upped the gelatin and tweaked the method. I think it turned out very well and hope you will give it a try.


In a microwave safe bowl combine:

1/2 cool water

3 packets of Knox powdered gelatin (be careful if converting to sheets)

Mix and allow the gelatin to bloom for 5 minutes. In a large metal bowl combine:

1 cup hot water

1 cup sugar

Stir with a whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Meanwhile, microwave the bloomed gelatin for 40 to 60 seconds to melt. Pour it into the sugar water mixture and stir with a whisk to combine. Next, pour in:

1 1/2 cups ice water

Stir with a whisk until the ice has melted totally. Next, pour in:

1/2 cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice or lemon juice with one tangerine in place of one of the lemons

Stir with a whisk, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or foil and place in the refrigerator until the gelatin is as thick as raw egg whites.

Once you reach this point (it should take 10 to 20 minutes), mix in a total of two cups of fruit or berries. I used strawberries and raspberries. (Be careful with fresh fruit, some of it may prevent your jelly from setting.) Pour the mixture into a mold (you’ll have about 5 1/2 cups of gelatin), cover and return to the refrigerator for two hours or until fully set.

The overhead view
A few bubbles but overall very successful.
Jiggle jiggle
More detail
See my berries? DO YOU SEE MY BERRIES???

To unmold, run a knife around the edges of the mold to loosen, then dip the mold into warm (not hot) water for 10 seconds and invert onto a serving platter. If the jelly is stubborn, dip into the warm water for another ten seconds. Garnish with extra fruit or berries.

Slice with a sharp knife and serve with plenty of whipped cream.

The slice.

By the way, I ate some the day I made it and more the next day. I’m not sure if it was more set time or if I was just really hungry but the jelly tasted even better the second time.

Nom nom nom
Lemony goodness.
Also, whipped cream.

Vegetarian/Vegan Berry Lemonade Jelly

As you probably know, gelatin derived from collagen and is generally produced by boiling the skin, cartilage and bones of either pigs or cows. There are some fish-based brands but the fact of the matter is that this stuff is decidedly not vegetarian.

Vegan jelly desserts rely on plant-based thickeners and agar agar is one of the most common. Here are a few things you should know before getting started:

There are different forms of agar agar including flakes, strands and powder. I am using powder. This is the brand.

Agar agar can be temperamental. If you have never used it before, I recommend running some test batches using just water. Here is an excellent FAQ video.

Sugar does not affect the gelling powers of agar agar. Acids do. Feel free to fiddle around with the sweetness level to find one that suits your taste (but be sure to account for liquid sweeteners in your fluid totals). With acidic main ingredients like lemon juice, you will need to double the agar agar used in the recipe.

The texture of the finished dessert will be different from gelatin. It will not be springy and jiggly but will rather resemble that famous canned jellied cranberry sauce. It will also be more opaque than gelatin.

Agar agar sets at room temperature and fast. You will have to work quickly if you intend to set fruit in the jelly.

I find agar agar to have a cleaner flavor than gelatin.

I think that’s everything, so here’s the vegan variation of this delicious jelly.

I apologize for the plating but the gelatin was hogging my silver platter.

In a large saucepan combine:

3 cups of cold water

3/4 cup to 1 cup sugar (to taste)

3 1/2 teaspoons of agar agar powder (this is double what I would normally use for this amount of liquid in order to compensate for the acidity)

Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring periodically to prevent the agar agar from sinking or clumping. When the agar agar and sugar are completely dissolved (about 5 minutes of boiling) add:

1/2 cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice (or substitute a tangerine for one of the lemons)

Zest of 1 lemon

Stir with a whisk and remove from heat. Immediately pour the mixture into a pan or mold. (Simpler shapes work better for agar agar because it tends to be stiff and more challenging to unmold than gelatin.)

When the mixture starts to thicken (10-20 minutes at room temperature), stir in the mixed fruit or berries of your choice. I used drained fruit cocktail for my initial test to keep the vintage vibe but a blend of fresh strawberries, blueberries and raspberries would be very nice. Basically, any fruit that would work well with lemonade will work here, just keep in mind that some fruits (strawberries included) need more agar agar to set. Your sliced fruit or berries should total two cups.

See the pretty flecks of zest?

Cover the mold with foil or plastic wrap, put the jelly in the refrigerator and allow to cool and set totally. This took two hours for me but I kind of forgot to check sooner.

Once you’re ready to serve, run a knife along the edge of the pan or mold and invert the jelly onto a serving platter. If it won’t unmold, try dipping the mold into warm (not hot) water for 10 second intervals and invert again.

My mold wouldn’t let go, which explains the snaggle tooth appearance.

Serve with whipped cream (vegetarian) or the non-dairy whipped topping of your choice. This version has a cleaner, more honest lemon flavor than the gelatin and the texture is delightful. Even non-vegetarians should give this one a shot. It is, however, less fun to squeeze between your teeth.


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  1. Marie Roget

    I’ve not been much for jelly molds (or jelly in general) in the past, but your creations via Lilyan Tashman’s recipe look so fresh and tasty, will have to give one a try!

    [Side Note: all who have lived or are currently living with vegans have probably encountered agar agar in some form or other, whether you were aware of it or not. I do remember how it can set up like lightning just on the kitchen counter, to my utter amazement.]

  2. Marie Roget

    Cooking for our annual Halloween Party started yesterday evening (party is night of 10/28/17, like many) and will include a large jelly mold (mandarin orange and peach slices) made with agar agar and inspired by this post!

    This year’s party is incorporating into a neighborhood block party of charity yard haunts (Cans for Candy), so that mold ought to go pretty fast (we hope), along with an absolute vat of pumpkin chili, two rafts of cornbread, and cupcakes. Much thanks again for posting Tashman’s recipe and your variations!

  3. Marie Roget

    Thanks! Big jelly mold was sliced and gone in slightly over an hour on the tables out front of our yard display. A magical and very communal night. MS recipe rocked!

    -Side Note: Phantom of the Opera was screened for all the overnight guests at midnight…or so ๐Ÿ˜€

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