The Origin Of Great Britain's Fool Desserts

Sometimes, the name of a dish offers a clue to the origin story of a recipe. That may be the case with the creamy fruit dessert known in Great Britain as a "fool," which is made from cooked, pureed fruit lightened with whipped cream or a cooked custard. In Old and Middle French, the term fouler meant to mash or crush, which is exactly what happens to the fruit before it's folded into the fool mixture. On the other hand, the simple dessert may have gotten its moniker because it wasn't meant to be taken very seriously, like its culinary cousin the trifle.

John Florio's 1598 Italian-English dictionary "A Worlde of Words" includes a listing for an Italian dessert said to be like a "foole," indicating that the fool was already well-known by that date. One early recipe for a fool can be found in the 1655 collection of English royal recipes titled "The Compleat Cook," from the court of French-born Queen Henrietta Maria. The recipe includes cooked, mashed, and strained gooseberries, which are beaten with sugar, butter, and eggs to form a pudding-like consistency. Fruits were normally cooked and not eaten raw in those days, and most people considered fruits to be somewhat dangerous to health. Case in point, tomatoes were absolutely feared!

Not a foolish dessert after all

Modern fool recipes generally skip the eggs and simply fold cooked fruit puree into sweetened whipped cream, somewhat like a trifle without the cake. Tart, acidic fruits like berries, rhubarb, and pineapple are a great choice because they balance the butterfat and sugar of the cream nicely. Cooking or macerating the fruits to reduce the water content helps to keep the finished texture thick without too much fruit juice separating the cream from the fruit.

Fortunately, we now have the convenience of making our purees in a blender or food processor. Making a modern fool is a quick process that leads to a deliciously creamy dessert, especially when served with a crisp cookie or two. If you want to try your hand at this spoonful of British comfort, just mix your favorite fruit puree with whipped cream, folding it in until streaks of the puree are still visible. Serve in individual cups with a few slices of fresh fruit for a pretty presentation that would be foolish to pass up!