Comfort food #8: Jelly slice

The communion table brings comfort. No matter what flavour our Christian faith — Anglican, Baptist, Catholic or some other— the table at the centre of our churches is a heady reminder of the grace that colours our lives. As often as we meet there to break bread, we rediscover our connections to God and each other. It’s intoxicating stuff!

That said, I reckon the church trestle table — the one set up at the back for the after-church cuppa — brings a comfort all its own. Sure, it’s not weighed down by the same religious gravity, but its consolation is real. The elements of bread and wine might be replaced with pikelets and milky tea, yet the sacramental moment is extended and comfort is tangible. 

The truth is, in my early church memories its the trestle table that shines more luminously. There were all manner of foods that appeared at church lunches and morning teas, but it’s the slices I remember most — those little squares of sweetness that made my eyes wide and my tummy full. There were the staples: Mrs MacKenzie’s raspberry jam and coconut slice and Mrs van den Berg’s spiced apple squares. There was that lovely caramel thing (with that thin veneer of chocolate), alongside lemon slice and chocolate hedgehog, though I don’t remember who made those. But then there were the occasionals, those treats that appeared from time to time and, when they did, outshone everything else on offer. My stand-out favourite: Mrs Ashman’s jelly slice.

Mrs Ashman was a dear lady married to a gentle man who I remember visiting with mum when I was small. They lived in a weatherboard house in Charles Street where the concrete garden borders and pruned rose bushes were a lesson in the virtue of neatness. Perhaps Mrs Ashman’s preference for jelly slice came from a similar place: those perfect layers of strawberry red and milky white atop a thin layer of buttery biscuit. Everything in its place. Really, what’s not to love? After all, an orderly life crowned with a pop of colour is such a beautiful thing!

I’ve never made jelly slice until now. In fact, I’ve not seen it for years, but I do remember Mrs Ashman, the grace and belonging I felt at church and that glorious red jelly sheen. And I am comforted. 

Here’s what you need

  • 250 grams of Marie or digestive biscuits
  • 180 grams of melted butter 
  • 395 gram can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons of gelatine powder
  • 3/4 cup of boiling water
  • 2 lemons — juiced
  • 1 standard packet of strawberry jelly crystals (85 grams)
  • 1 extra teaspoon of gelatine powder

Here’s what you do

  1. Line a slice tin with baking paper.
  2. Place the biscuits in a large bowl and crush together with your hands until they resemble fine bread crumbs.
  3. Add the melted butter and combine.
  4. Place the biscuit mixture into the slice tin and press down with the palm of your hand until you have an even base.
  5. Place the base in the refrigerator until firmly set (around 30 miniutes).
  6. While the base is in the fridge, dissolve the 2 1/2 teaspoons of gelatine in the boiling water.
  7. Place the condensed milk into a bowl and whisk through the water and gelatine along with the lemon juice. Continue whisking until the mixture is well combined.
  8. Remove the base from the refrigerator and pour the milk mixture over the base ensuring an even spread.
  9. Place the slice into the refrigerator to set (around 45 minutes).
  10. While the slice is in the fridge, make the jelly according the directions on the packet, adding the extra teaspoon of gelatine.
  11. Allow the jelly mixture to cool to room temperature.
  12. Remove the slice from the refrigerator and carefully pour over the cooled jelly mixture.
  13. Place the slice back in the fridge and let it set for a good 5 or 6 hours. Overnight is even better.

Using a knife dipped in hot water, cut the slice into even squares. Now plate them up and get yourself to church. You’ll be the answer to everyone’s prayers!

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