I’m reading The Greedy Queen by Annie Gray. The author introduced the way people made gelatine in Victorian times:

Jellies at this time were set with gelatine extracted from calves’ feet. Rendering the gelatine took days, and was even more involved than making a stock, involving similar amounts of clarification and straining, plus a bit of flavouring with wine and sugar, and with the added pitfall of ensuring that the final thick liquid would set firmly – but with a perky wobble – when chilled. This basic wine jelly was used as the basis for some incredible dishes, often made in specialised moulds which enabled cooks to fill internal cavities with set creams.

I'm lost from "pitfall" onwards. As defined by the dictionaries, "pitfall" basically means a trap. But what does the whole thing have to do with a trap? Is this sentence saying that something is added to set the gelatine? If not, what's it saying? And does "this basic wine jelly" in the following sentence actually refers to the aforementioned gelatine? Can anybody clarify the idea for me?

2 Answers 2


Honestly, I think "pitfall" here is a bad word choice on the part of the author. I would use "difficulty" in its place here, as that appears to be what the author intends -- the process of making jelly is not only as involved as making stock, since both of them require careful clarification and straining, but even more involved, since, unlike making stock, one must ensure that it sets properly.

The jelly (a wobbly dessert also sometimes referred to as "jello" or "gelatin" in American English) is set by adding gelatin (the substance extracted from calves' feet described in the first sentence). "This basic wine jelly" is referring to the jelly that results from the process described, in which the author mentioned that wine and sugar were added for flavor. Presumably if other flavorings were added, it would be a different kind of jelly.


You are confused between jelly and gelatine. People made a jelly, not "made gelatine". Gelatine is obtained from animal bones, tendons and other tissue. It is an ingredient of jelly, which is the subject of the text you quoted.

Literally, a pitfall is a trap prepared by digging a hole or pit in the ground and then covering it with e.g. foliage so that an unwary or unsuspecting person or animal might fall in.

Figuratively, a pitfall is a hidden or unsuspected danger or difficulty. In the process of preparing a jelly, a hidden difficulty is that it might not 'set' (become thick) at the end of the process, if ingredients are not carefully chosen and used in the right proportions. Nowadays ready prepared gelatine may be bought in stores, but in Victorian times it had to be extracted from calves' feet.

The 'basic wine jelly' is the result of the process described. It is a prepared, cooked product. Gelatine is one of the ingredients.

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