Junket with Strawberries and Whipped Cream
Have you ever heard of junket, or junket tablets? Probably not.
I first heard about junket tablets, a form of rennet, from a cheesemaking book several years ago, about the same time I first used rennet. It was not until relatively recently though that I learned junket was also a dessert made with the tablets of the same name.
It turns out though that junkets date back to the Middle Ages.
Back then, though, they used cream rather than milk to make this dish, and they did separate the whey from the curds. It was probably more like a fresh cheese than the custard-like dessert it eventually became.
At the time, they used liquid animal rennet, which is the same coagulant used in cheesemaking. Today, the tablets contain vegetable rennet so they are vegetarian. Though can certainly still buy animal rennet in liquid form.
Then, in the late 19th century a new invention targeted to women – rennet tablets – changed the way the dessert was made. The invention came from a Danish immigrant in New York state named Johan Fredericksen who wanted to expand his rennet business to include not just large-scale cheese manufacturers but the home market as well.
Eventually the company changed the name of the tablets to Junket Tablets since that was what people called them anyway.
People of all ages ate this milk dessert, and it was often used as invalid food. That is, food for ailing people, sometimes as the delivery method for alcohol. Yes, people until not that long ago considered alcohol to be good for the sick.
In fact, in the recipe booklet from which this recipe comes from has a recipe that says “if required as a medium for administering wine, brandy, or whiskey in sickness as much as four tablespoonfuls [of the spirit] may be used.”
By the 1940s junket desserts were so popular that whole events where it was served came to be known as junkets. And in addition to the rennet tablets, there was a whole line of flavored and colored desserts, both rennet and not rennet based. They also sold food coloring.1
Some of them, including the Danish desserts, are still available today. But not at the grocery store!
Well, at least not in any grocery store I have ever looked in. And believe me, I have looked a lot over the years.
Since mid-century the popularity of Junket has plummeted, probably due to being under a variety of companies that were not all that invested in the product.
Or maybe Americans just outgrew their taste for it.
When I finally decided that I wanted to make junket, I ended up having to order a pack of tablets from the Junket.
Then, it was just a matter of finding a recipe.
Thankfully, just like so many other food companies of the time, Chr. Hansen’s Laboratory, the name of the company at the time, produced a plethora of recipe booklets. These booklets served to advertise their product but also to teach American housewives how to use the product. After all, if you don’t know how to use something chances are you won’t buy it.
So I searched online for the earliest booklet I could find and found one from 1913 called “Dainty Junkets.”
This recipe booklet has a lot of recipes for rennet custards but also ice creams, baby food, cheese, etc.
The booklet opens, of course, exalting the benefits and deliciousness of Junket
“The Healthfulness of Junket
Of the many good points about Junket its healthfulness is best and most important.
That it can be prepared as good a plain food for the children, or with a few extra touches made into a delicious dessert for the family, is the story of Junket that many a busy housewife could tell.
But of its great value as a perfect healthful food especially for the young, growing child or as a nourishing, sustaining, food for the sick and invalids we prize the testimonials of the professional people: -Doctors, Nurses, Domestic Science Teachers, Cooking Experts and others who speak from a scientific standpoint.”2
Like so many other foods in the 19th and early 20th centuries, its manufacturer touted Junket as medicine. Today, for the most part, we keep food and medicine as separate categories. But, as the marketing for Junket and so many other contemporary foods shows, we are not as far removed as we might think from the times when food and medicine were one.
There are no sick people in my house, so I decided that “a few extra touches” were in order.
The recipe I chose is called “Junket with Fresh Berries,” and it is just a paragraph explaining how you can the take the plain Junket recipe and jazz it up a bit.
Junket with Fresh Berries
“Make a plain Junket, flavoring with vanilla, and pour into individual Junket glasses, filling each glass two-thirds full. When just ready to serve, fill with luscious ripe strawberries or raspberries dusted with powdered sugar, and then heap over this whpped cream; dot the top with berries. Blackberries or blueberries may be placed in the bottom of the glasses and the Junket mixture poured over them. Canned strawberries, raspberries, peaches, prunes or plums may be used in the same way, being allowed to form in the junket.”2
The reason that you cannot pour it over strawberries or any other acidic fruits is that the acid will prevent the Junket from coagulating.
And yes, I reversed the order of the toppings just so that it would look nice in pictures. If I had put the strawberries down first and then the cream, you wouldn’t have been able to see the strawberries.
This does not really matter though, it all goes in the mouth together!
How to Prepare Plain Junket
“Put one Junket Tablet and a tablespoonful of cold water into a cup and crush with a spoon to dissolve thoroughly. Junket Tablets must be dissolved in cold water.
Take one quart of pure milk and bring it to lukewarm (about 98ºF), add three tablespoonfuls sugar and one teaspoonful of flavor, or more according to taste, and if desired a trifle of one of the Junket Colors.
Hot milk will not make a firm Junket.
Add the dissolved Junket Tablet to the lukewarm milk and stir it quickly for a moment.
Pour at once into Junket glasses and let it stand in a warm room until firm (from 5 to 15 minutes).
Remove carefully, without jarring, to a cold place or the refrigerator, and leave until time to serve.
Serve with or without cream.”2
This makes a whole lot of Junket so I halved the recipe.
Here is the recipe as I made it.
Junket with Strawberries and Whipped Cream
- ½ Junket Tablet
- 1 ½ tsp cold water
- 2 cups whole milk
- 4 ½ tsp granulated sugar
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- a drop of red/pink food coloring optional
- ½ cup whipping cream
- 4 ½ tsp powder/confectioner sugar
- sliced strawberries
- In a small bowl or cup, dissolve the Junket tablet in the cold water.
- In a small saucepan, heat the milk to lukewarm (98°F). Remove from the heat.
- Stir in the granulated sugar, vanilla extract, and food coloring. Then, when the sugar is dissolved, pour the Junket tablet and water into the milk and stir briefly.
- Pour the mixture into four serving bowls and let sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Then, refrigerate until serving time. Ideally, at least 2 hours.
- When ready to serve, whip the whipping cream with the powder/confectioner sugar until stiff peaks form.
- Spoon the whipped cream on top of the junket and top with the sliced strawberries. Dust more powder sugar on top if desired.
As you can see, the amount of sugar is pretty small. This is not a sickly sweet dessert.
Instead, it is a nice, light custard that is not set all the way like an egg custard. It’s very refreshing, actually.
I tastes milky, of course, but also not like any other milk dessert I have ever had.
As I said, it does not set hard but it is firm enough to hold the toppings. You can use a whole tablet for a firmer set.
On the health aspect, while it may not have the restorative effects early 20th century people – mostly the Chr. Hansen Laboratory – ascribed to it, junket, as an eggless custard has its benefits. Junket custards, and junket ice creams, are good alternatives for those who have egg allergies.
Given how uncommon junket is these days, it’s anyone’s guess how much longer the company that makes Junket Tablets will be around. But at least for now, since 2018, the company is back in the hands of a family who, I imagine, is keeping it alive for the love of junket.
- For a more thorough history of the company that makes Junket Tablets today, see their website https://junketdesserts.com/our-story
- “Dainty Junkets: A Collection of Valuable Recipes for Milk Desserts and Ice Cream by Janet McKenzie Hill, Emma H. Crane, and other experts of Cookery,” Chr. Hansen’s Laboratory, Little Falls, NY, 1913.