In researching for my next book “In bed with the Georgians – Sex, Scandal and Satire” I came across a book by Richard King which came out in 1771, entitled ‘The New London Spy: or, A Twenty-Four Hours Ramble through the Bills of Mortality’. Its full title offered readers:
…a true picture of modern high and low life; from the splendid mansions in St. James’s to the subterraneous habitations of St. Giles’s, wherein are displayed the various scenes of Covent-Garden, and its environs, the theatres, Jelly-houses, Gaming-houses, Night-houses, Cottages, Masquerades, Mock-Masquerades, Public-gardens, and other places of entertainments.
I love the idea of a “Jelly house” and recalled the image of a Jelly-house macaroni on the Lewis Walpole site.
The print, by Carington Bowles, came out in 1772 and shows a young rake making amorous advances to a lady of the town. The jelly house was not so much a brothel as a meeting place – somewhere a young blade would go to in order to pick up a prostitute. In order to ‘heighten the coming pleasure in the amorous contest’ the couple might build up their appetites, and strength, by feasting on jellies and other delicacies, before retiring to a nearby room for a spot of how’s-your-father.
It seems that the idea of jellies having aphrodisiac qualities has never entirely gone out of fashion – I see that there is a website called The Spicy Wench which offers to purvey Aphrodisiac Jelly containing Sugar, Orange Juice, Pineapple Juice, Mojito Mint,and Pectin. Others nowadays may swear by Royal Jelly, but my guess is that the amorous couple in the Jelly house were more likely to slurp a wobbling plate of ribbon jelly (contrasting layers of different coloured jellies served in a tall glass). It may have worked – though rumour has it that Casanova swore by the combination of red wine and stilton. Mind you, other reports say that he knocked back fifty oysters before each and every assignation, so I don’t suppose he would have been seen dead in a jelly-house. Nor would Madame du Barry, mistress of Louis XV of France, who swore by cauliflower soup, made to her own recipe. As an alternative she would offer her royal paramour a cup of hot chocolate …
Of course there has long been a belief that food can have “potency potential” if it combines the qualities of being smooth, rich, creamy, exotic and spicy. So at first I thought that my 18th century rake would have chosen a flummery (like a blancmange) flavoured with either cinnamon or ginger. It would have come out of a mould shaped like a beehive, no doubt made by Wedgwood, and it would have wobbled suggestively as each of the participants endeavoured to take a spoonful. Or maybe they would have opted for a quince jelly or quiddany (similar to the membrillo you get in Spain). Quinces had long been used for their aphrodisiac qualities, made into a sort of marmalade. It is not a fruit we often encounter today, but old recipe books were full of them – so much so that in the 17th Century prostitutes were apparently termed ‘marmalade madams’ because they would entice customers with a spoonful or two of quince marmalade. (The Historic Food site here has some splendid recipes and images of quince moulds and jellies). However, the more I looked for recipes for jellies which were believed to have the right properties to encourage a night of hanky-panky, the more I was drawn back to the idea of it being a (savoury) jellified broth. Many of the recipes were none too subtle (“Take four cocks…”). So perhaps the young lovers had a plateful of those delicious gelatinous juices you get on the bottom of the roasting tray when you roast a chicken – no doubt flavoured with red wine and herbs….
Mind you, looking again at the picture it appears as if he has already got his hands on her jellies, so perhaps they would have dispensed with the preliminaries and just gone upstairs!