Sunday, January 13, 2008

Dishing About Junket

Someone asked me about junket the other day, what is it and why is it called that. Fair enough.

The short answer is that it is a milk custard set with rennet, and rennet is a substance found in the stomachs of mammals (calves usually), a group of enzymes designed to help digest the mother's milk. The active enzyme in rennet is rennin, that makes sense. And an enzyme called protease coagulates the milk which then separates into curds and whey. Rennet is also used in the production of cheese, which is how modern Junket developed (I'll get to that in a minute).

Junket-like custards have been around since the Middle Ages. The word is supposed to have come from the Latin juncus, meaning rush, which became juncata in medieval or Vulgar Latin. A Norman French dessert called jonquette was a sort of caramel egg custard.

A junket can also mean a trip taken at the expense of the public (such as a press junket) or a jolly social occasion. I suppose the 'rush' part of the Latin word relates to rushing off on a trip, or rushing around being jolly. I'm reaching here, folks, I know, but it's the best I can do for you today!

Anyway, modern Junket as we know it was developed in Denmark by a man named Christian Hansen in 1874, at his Hansen's Laboratorium. He made rennet extract for cheese and in 1878 set up in what apparently was the cheese-making center of the US, Herkimer County, NY (I thought Wisconsin maybe, but the Junket website says Herkimer County). In 1891 they started actually making it there (in Little Falls) and it still is made there.

The dessert was first called Junket in 1886, and the Canadians started making it in Toronto in 1917 (well, I can tell you, I can't find it in Canada now, so I guess they stopped). In the 1930s and 1940s you could get different Junket mixes with which to make ice cream, sherbet, fudge or frosting, and also a Danish Dessert mix that was based on my old pal Rodgrod. Now that's serendipitous (I mean, me writing about Junket so soon after the Rodgrod. Note to self: enough with the custard for awhile).

I took a very amateur photo of my Junket package, which you can see above. It comes in the form of little foil-wrapped tablets. We haven't made any yet, but I used to have it when I was sick. I wasn't sick as a kid very much but when I was, it was chocolate Junket time. It is very soft, like sweetened jellied milk (not just like that, it is exactly that) and perfect for invalids as well as their deserving friends.

This recipe is from Ruth Berolzheimer's Body-Building Dishes For Children, published in 1950 by the Culinary Arts Institute in Chicago, whoch she was the director of.

Blueberry Rennet-Custard

2 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1 package of vanilla rennet-powder
2 cups milk

Wash and drain blueberries and divide among 6 dessert dishes. Save some for the tops. Make up the rennet custard and pour it over the berries. Let set until firm, about 10 minutes, and then chill. Garnish with a few berries before serving.

How to make the Vanilla Junket (Ruth B. assumes we all know how) - for 6 servings combine 3 cups whole milk, 4 1/2 Tb sugar and 1 1/2 vanilla in a saucepan and heat to lukewarm. Dissolve 1 1/2 Junket tablets in water by crushing (just a little water I should think) and add to the warm milk. Stir for a FEW seconds (the recipe booklet in the package verges on hysteria here so don't overdo) and pour it immediately (or else) into the 6 dishes you have waiting. Then carry on as above, with the berries and all.

I think you could use other berries and it would be OK. As long as you do NOT stir too long, got that? Good.

You can learn tons more about Junket (if you really want to) here and here and also here. Dr. Fankhauser and I have the same kind of Junket box, apparently.


Kip Altman said...


Junket is still made -


Kip Altman

g kniff said...

I have an unopened box of Junket rennet vanilla custard with a price of fourteen (14) cents stamped on it.

Can anyone tell me how long ago I might have bought it at that price?

And why did I buy vanilla, when I remember that I really liked orange and raspberry a lot.czhmf