Bring out your inner Southern Belle with this vintage Southern side dish made the day before and allowed to set up overnight. This recipe is actually easier done than said. Read all the way through the instructions before getting started. Actually it is quite easy and it isn’t as daunting as the lengthy instructions might have you think.
Boil four to five medium sized tomatoes until the skin softens (wrinkles and/or splits) for easy removal. Pour into a colander held over or placed in a clean sink to drain off boiling hot water. Rinse in cold tap water, allow to sit, and when cool enough to handle — but still actually warm to touch — peel away skin and place the peeled tomatoes into a bowl or food processor. Mash tomatoes into a liquified pulp then strain to remove seeds and any unwanted filaments. Measure out four cups worth to use in this recipe. Set aside. Note: Any tomato juice mash that may be left over as well as the skins can be refrigerated or frozen for later use in other recipes such as soups, stews, or pasta sauces.
Prepare and grease your gelatin mold and set aside. See below for best method.
Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Whisk in the boiling water until the gelatin is dissolved. Set aside.
Stir together the 4 cups of tomato juice mash and remaining ingredients — except the lemon juice and gelatin– in a Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes stirring every couple of minutes or so to release and meld the seasoning flavors into the tomato juice mash.
Pour through a wire mesh colander or tea strainer into a clean mixing bowl to remove any clumps or grainy/crunchy/chewy bits as well as to remove the bay leaves and to increase the smoothness and creaminess of the texture of the seasoned tomato juice mash.
Stir in the lemon juice and the gelatin.
Pour into a greased gelatin mold. (See notations below about how best to grease your mold). If you do not own a gelatin mold then a ceramic or glass bowl will suffice, in a pinch. A tube pan with protective ceramic or non-stick coating preventing contact with the metal underneath also works quite well.
Note: Avoid using metal or plastic serving/mixing bowls as a make-shift mold because the acidity of the tomato and lemon juice may discolor metal, eat away holes in aluminum or copper, or may dissolve into as well as discolor plastic. If you must use metal make sure it is stainless steel or has a protective ceramic or non-stick coating such as Teflon. It is also recommended that any metal, plastic, or rubber utensils used be rinsed immediately after use. Gelatin molds made of metal may also become discolored or tarnished, and you should avoid using at all if it is made of copper or aluminum, however, they are not usually something used as a serving dish so if develop a tarnished appearance it doesn’t matter as much as a bowl that you may want to use later as a serving dish. But..NO ALUMINUM or COPPER! Acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus fruits (lemon, lime, grapefruit, oranges) should never be stored or cooked in aluminum or copper without the presence of a protective barrier coating the metal.
Chill until set, overnight, approximately six to eight hours. Cover with a carefully centered serving dish or platter and, holding them together, turn upside down and place on table or counter top. Allow to slide out onto a serving dish or platter as you gently lift the mold. Refrigerate with a dome cover until ready to serve.
If it doesn’t want to slide right out, then to remove a stubborn aspic from its mold or bowl, sit the mold or bowl in hot tap water to cover the sides 3/4 of the way up and repeat the previous step after the mold becomes warm. Alternately, while it sits upside down on the serving dish or platter, simply use a hand held blow dryer to warm the bottom and sides. It should then slide right out easily as you lift the mold.
It also helps to use solid hydrogenated vegetable oil (such as Crisco) to grease your mold instead of a liquid spray or cooking oil. Use clean hands and fingers (may also use paper towel) to spread evenly and thinly getting down into any decorative grooves of the mold well. Avoid leaving large white clumps that could become stuck inside your aspic (Yuck! Not a good taste!) or it could leave unwanted and unsightly gaps molded into your otherwise beautifully molded aspic. Spread it thin and evenly so that it is translucent; clear or very nearly so.
Now that you have the basic tomato aspic down pat you are ready to branch out into trying other spins on this vintage Southern classic. It was common at the time to add fresh uncooked diced onions and celery if expecting company for dinner. More about how to do that shortly!
For a Bloody Mary Aspic, simply use lime juice in place of the lemon juice and stir in fresh uncooked chopped celery before the step of stirring in the lime juice and gelatin.
Another to try, when preparing your mold, line the greased mold with drained sliced black olives so it is ready and waiting to later pour your aspic over.
You can also stir in one, or all, of the following fresh uncooked vegetables right before the step in which you stir in the lemon juice and gelatin:
finely diced green,
finely chopped sweet regular or baby bell peppers in assorted colors