Whatever else they may have thought of her life’s eye-popping trajectory, the family, friends, and guests of Wallis Warfield (1896—1986), the Baltimore belle best known as the Duchess of Windsor, hailed her skills as a hostess. As a friend of the duchess’s wrote in a letter in 1931, when the royal spouse was still Mrs Ernest Simpson, “Wallis’s parties have so much pep no one ever wants to leave. Cocktails with sausages, not on skewers, caviar with vodka, soup with sherry, fish with white wine, hock, champagne, from then on to the brandy. Needless to say, I do not attempt this lavish mixture. But her food is as elaborate as her wine list.”
More than 100 of the duchess’s dishes, from appetizers to desserts, were published in Some Favorite Southern Recipes of the Duchess of Windsor (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1942), a slender but stylish cookery book whose royalties were earmarked for the British war-relief effort. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt penned the painfully earnest foreword, while the duchess, then cooling her high-society heels in the Bahamas, wrote the introduction, observing, “I have been very happy to help carry some of the well-known dishes of my native land to other countries, and especially to have served on my table Southern dishes which appeal to the Duke … [It] is the simple dishes of my homeland which are most popular with me, and which are the ones most frequently served at my table.” Whether Wallis Windsor actually wrote those words is arguable, since the book was copyrighted by food journalist Marie M. Meloney, a friend of Mrs Roosevelt’s. It was Mrs Meloney who doubtless encouraged the duchess to provide only easy, accessible recipes, which most of them, perhaps surprisingly, are.
My husband had first crack at the book when it arrived in the post, and last weekend, for a large dinner party, he made the duchess’s recipe for Wine Jelly. Think of a cool, quivering dessert the color of French-vanilla ice cream and infused with the delicate taste of white wine. Odd, perhaps, but strangely elegant, especially when prepared in a ceramic mold that gave it a decorative appearance, rather like carved Carrara marble. My husband has begun to amass a collection of such molds, so expect some extraordinary desserts to result as time goes by.
The verdict? A slightly bland but refreshing dessert that might have been improved with a bright drizzle of raspberry sauce. We’ll be serving it again—the looks are impressive, which is half the battle, don’t you think?—though I will be experimenting with other types of wines. Wine Jelly might look beautiful prepared with jewel-tone layers of rosé and white wine or even Champagne. And instead of white granulated sugar, which the recipes calls for, perhaps light brown sugar would add a deeper flavor note.
WINE JELLY (1942)
SOURCE: Some Favorite Southern Recipes of the Duchess of Windsor (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1942)
SERVES: Six (6) portions, according to the cookery book, we managed to get nine (9) good slices out of the recipe.
1-1/2 tablespoons [powdered] gelatin
2/3 cup white wine
3 eggs slightly beaten
1/2 cup [granulated white] sugar
3 cups milk, scalded
1. In a bowl, soften the gelatin in the wine and set aside.
2. In another bowl, combine the eggs and sugar. Add milk slowly, stirring constantly.
3. Transfer to a medium sauce pan over hot water, or to a double boiler, until the mixture coats a spoon.
4. Remove sauce pan from the heat. Add gelatin to the milk-and-egg mixture. Stir until dissolved.
5. Carefully pour the mixture into a mold. Chill until firm.
6. When ready to serve, dip the mold, for just a moment, into a bowl of warm water to loosen. Place a serving plate, upside down, on top of the mold, and turn the mold over, waiting for the jelly to loosen.
7. Serve immediately, slicing the mold as one would a loaf of bread, with one slice per person.