Gooseberry Fool

Summer is the perfect time for fool. This cool, creamy dish is better known in Great Britain than the United States but used to be common here as well. Fool refers to cooked fruit mixed with custard or whipped cream. The term was once thought to be derived from the French fouler, meaning to crush (as in berries), but the Oxford English Dictionary dismisses this idea since the earliest fools didn’t contain fruit. The dessert may have been considered simply foolish and insubstantial, somewhat like trifle, its culinary relative.  Continue reading

Banana Pudding

banana pudding with vanilla wafersMy apologies for writing about bananas at a time when we clearly have more pressing things to talk about. But the White House isn’t taking my calls (“the comment line is currently closed”), and I’ve neglected this blog too long. I also think a lot of people might be in need of comfort food, thus the choice of pudding.

It’s hard to imagine now, when bananas are so plentiful and cheap, that they were an exotic fruit a few hundred years ago. James Fenimore Cooper mentioned finding bananas in markets in the 1820s, but they were a rarity until well after the Civil War, sold only in port cities like New York and Charleston. Cookbook author Eleanor Parkinson seemed to assume most readers were unfamiliar with the banana when she wrote in 1846, “This fruit is about four or five inches long, of the shape of a cucumber, and of a highly grateful flavor…. When ripe it is a very pleasant food, either undressed, or fried in slices like fritters.” Continue reading

Sickbed Custard

sick bed custardI’ve been battling a cold for the last week, so I decided to try a colonial cure, Amelia Simmons’s “sickbed custard”:

“Scald a quart milk, sweeten and salt a little, whip 3 eggs and stir in, bake on coals in a pewter vessel.”

In the 18th century, many medicinal vessels were made from pewter. It was sturdy and relatively affordable. Lower-quality pewter also usually contained toxic lead, so I hope Simmons was using the good stuff or she may have been sickening people with her sickbed custard.

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