Vodka jelly and the Russian Revolution
The earliest published vodka jelly recipe that we know of dates back to 1862 (actually it was a punch vodka recipe, with the spirit unspecified, so it may have been vodka but might also have been rum or gin, for example).
However, given the that vodka has been produced in Poland and Russia for more than a thousand years, and given that gelatine is a commonly produced by-product when certain, particularly cartilaginous, animal bones are boiled up, some historians believe that Eastern Europeans may have been knocking back vodka jelly for many centuries.
This is borne out in Russian folklore. Some of their fairytales involve children being captured by witches, giant or so on, as do our fairytales. The demons vary a bit – while we might have dragons say, Russian children’s stories often feature talking bears and kindly wolves. There is one particular tale in which the children escape by giving the witch a bowl full of “thick soup”. They had been forced to cook her dinner and perform other household tasks, so they had access to her supper. Some scholars believe that “thick soup” would refer to a gelatinous broth formed from the boiling of animal bones. There is some background to the science behind the vodka jelly shot on vodkajellyshots.co.uk but they don’t quite go as far as boiling up bones!
In the story, once the witch has eaten her gelatinous soup, she begins to stumble around and slur her words. She then starts singing loudly and arguing with her pet bird, before falling asleep and snoring loudly. Upon seeing this, the children take their chance to run away, and presumably go on to live happily ever after.
But what was it that the children had added to the soup to make the witch behave in this way? Given the set of behaviours described, and the widespread popularity of vodka over many centuries, it is very likely that the story is referring to the addition of vodka. As the soup was gelatinous, this means that, essentially, the witch was downing vodka jelly shots. That the Russians have a children’s fairytale featuring and even celebrating the effects of vodka jelly shows how deeply ingrained it is within their culture.
In more recent times, relatively speaking, vodka jelly shots played their part in the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was said that many of those storming the Winter Palace fortified themselves with strong vodka jelly mixes, referring to this as “wobbly Polish courage”, or what we would know as wobbly Dutch courage.
But it was not just the proles who liked there vodka jelly cocktails. The Tsar and his family were too. Indeed, before they were all shot, several of them – including some of the children – asked for vodka jelly cocktails to settle their nerves. However, the Bolsheviks, who were quite frankly fed up with the entitled attitude displayed by the Romanovs, denied them this request. To really rub it in, the men who were supposed to shoot them made a large vodka jelly cake and ate it in front of them, to taunt them. So large was this cake though, and so long did they taunt them for, that by the end they were too drunk to hold their guns straight, and they had to be replaced with fresh troops.
For a time, some historians felt that it was perhaps during this vodka jelly-induced confusion that Anastasia was able to make her make her escape. However, DNA tests in 2008 established beyond reasonable doubt that Anastasia had actually perished along with the rest of her family when they were executed. Therefore the several women who over the years had claimed to be Anastasia had all been fantasists or liars.
Once this had been realised, the whole story about the guards getting drunk on a giant vodka jelly cake prior to the shooting were themselves cast into doubt. These days, few people believe the story to be true.
A question of ratios
But if those Russian guards had made a fruit vodka jelly, say a strawberry vodka jelly, what would have been the correct vodka jelly ratio? The answer is, that sort of depends on how strong you like your vodka jelly shots. You can get up to almost a one-to-one ratio of water to vodka, but the nearer you get to that ratio the less likely your jelly is to set properly in the vodka jelly mould. This mean that when tip it out onto a plate, it will sort of slip around, rather than wobble. If you’re trying to host a wobbly vodka jelly party, this is obviously far from ideal.
The other problem with very strong vodka jelly is that it can simply taste very strongly of vodka. This isn’t a problem for people who like the taste of neat vodka, obviously. So alcoholics and street drinkers will probably love it. But for many people, a rather more conservative jelly shot ratio of one part vodka to three parts water is a bit more palatable.
This is also a great ratio for making really well-setting vodka jelly. That means you can have all kinds of fun making shapes such as rabbits and cats or, for a more adult twist, various male and female anatomical features.
Please think of the children
Do be careful though, vodka jelly parties are all good fun, but watch out if there are kids about. The Romanov children may have been big fans of strong vodka jelly shots, but children these days tend to be rather less used to drinking spirits. A child could quite by accident mistake a piece of vodka jelly cake, or some sparkling vodka jelly, for just normal kids’ jelly. The consequences could be disastrous, as children get drunk very easily due to their lower body weight.
Should this happen, you really should probably take them to hospital. However, do bear in mind that if you do this, the authorities are likely to ask some rather awkward questions about how your child got so drunk. While obviously didn’t do it on purpose, the fact that you allowed them access to what appeared like a normal jelly but was in fact vodka-laced jelly will likely construed as quite irresponsible. So if they’re not too out of it, it might be best to just let them sleep it off.