I like soups, and to like soups is to love stocks. A soup essentially is a stock with things added to it. Not all, but many stocks are based on marrow. In other words, we use bones to make the stock and what comes out of them is marrow. Another thing made from marrow is gelatin, and a rich bone stock is also rich in gelatin and will congeal when chilled. If one makes a super rich stock, it will contain enough marrow to allow us to mold it. And that is the secret behind the aspic.
A basic aspic is made by pouring a highly gelatinous stock into a mold, adding delicacies to it like ham, veal bits, mushrooms and maybe even truffles, and chilling it. It was served (I’m guessing) on a bed of ice covered with lettuce leaves or something to hide it.
Aspics have been around forever but they have not been popular at all in the U.S. in over 40 years. In fact, most people find them disgusting (but I bet those same people have no trouble eating ‘jello’). With the advent of refrigeration and fancy cocktail parties, aspics were a big hit in the 50’s.
Personally, I think aspics disappeared simply because they were just too darn hard to make. Firstly, the stock had to be impeccably clear; one simply could not serve a cloudy aspic. Furthermore, it is very hard to calculate the gelatinous content of a stock because even if one uses the same amount of bones, there is bound to be variability in the amount of marrow in the bones. The aspic also had to be prepared ahead, a whole day before, and finally, it often ‘failed’ when released from the mold and broke in half.
Aspic is tasty and beautiful, but more than that it was a badge for the cook’s skill in the culinary arts. The 60’s saw a big reduction in snobbishness and showmanship, and we haven’t seen the aspic since.