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|Main ingredients||Sweetened milk, rennet, sugar, vanilla|
To make junket, milk (usually with sugar and vanilla added) is heated to approximately body temperature and the rennet, which has been dissolved in water, is mixed in to cause the milk to "set". (Temperature variations will inactivate the enzyme in the rennet, causing the dessert to fail.) The dessert is chilled prior to serving. Junket is often served with a sprinkling of grated nutmeg on top. For most of the 20th century in the eastern United States, junket was often a preferred food for ill children, mostly due to its sweetness and ease of digestion.
The same was true in the United Kingdom where, in medieval times, junket had been a food of the nobility made with cream, not milk, and flavoured with rosewater and spices as well as sugar. It started to fall from favour during the Tudor era, being replaced by syllabubs on fashionable banqueting tables and, by the 18th century, had become an everyday food sold in the streets. In the United States, junket is commonly made with a prepackaged mix of rennet and sweetener from a company eponymously known as Junket.
Dorothy Hartley, in her compendious "Food in England" has a section on rennett followed by a section on 'Junkets, Curds and Whey or Creams'. She cites rum as the commonest flavouring, and clotted cream as the 'usual accompaniment'. She notes that the practice of heating the milk to blood heat is new one; originally, junket was made with milk as it was obtained from the cow, already at blood heat.
The word's etymology is uncertain. It is clearly related to the Norman jonquette (a kind of cream made with boiled milk, egg yolks, sugar and caramel). However it may derive from the Italian giuncata or directly from the medieval Latin juncata. The first recorded use (in this sense) is in "The boke of nurture, folowyng Englondis gise".
Elizabeth David, in an article in Nova, dated October 1965, asserts that the word "junket" "derives from the French jonches or rushes, one of the numerous old French names for freshly made milk cheese drained in rushes or a rush basket." The article can be found in the collection An Omelette and a Glass of Wine originally published in London by R. Hale Ltd, 1984. See the chapter titled "Pleasing Cheeses," Page 206.