One dessert that Darcy and Elizabeth must have enjoyed was the artless and simple fruit fool. People have been making fruit fools since the 1500’s, and there aren’t too many lovelier ways to enjoy summer’s bounty of fruits and berries. Back in time, the fruit was served with a “boiled” custard, a simple combination of milk, eggs, sugar, and flavoring. The recipe has changed and lightened up over the years; originally the fruit was stewed and made up into the dessert with a boiled custard sauce. Now we enjoy it with clouds of real whipped cream. Originally it might have been flavored with rosewater. Vanilla extract is more in accord with modern tastes. Again, back in the day, the fruit was stewed to soften it. We hardly ever do that now. The word “fool” comes from an old German word meaning to stir or mix.
You can make the dessert out of just about any soft fruit, but it is the ideal showcase for the perfectly ripe blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries of late spring and summer. People in India make a similar dessert out of luscious ripe mangos served with sweetened yogurt; they prefer “regular” yogurt to Greek style for this purpose. Apples and pears are a little too crisp, but I suspect sweet cherries (pitted) would be divine. I’m on the fence about peaches, but they’re intriguing. The New York Times food section also suggests yogurt, which would make a sort of deconstructed smoothie.
One thing I would urge is that you avoid anything too packaged or processed. I’m not big on “organic,” but you absolutely want to avoid powdered pudding mixes, frozen whipped topping, artificial vanilla, and artificial sweeteners. This way your berries will be showcased like jewels in all their delicious taste.
You may want to get your grandma’s cut-glass dessert dishes out for this. It also might be fun to serve it in old-style martini glasses, old-style champagne coupes, or large wine glasses. Plain modern glass bowls would be beautiful, too. A couple of pieces of Scottish shortbread or a crisp sugar cookie would be wonderful. If you have a farm stand or market nearby, look for the most beautiful, perfect berries you can find.
You will need your blender and your hand mixer. If you are accustomed to it, and you know how to whip cream, your stand mixer will be just fine with the whipping attachment. You’ll be eating this delicious dessert in no time.
A Strawberry Fool
1-pint freshest strawberries (or other berries as noted)
½ cup sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Wash the berries. Save at least four of your best-looking berries with their green caps for garnish. Remove the hulls (caps) from the rest and slice into quarters. Place in a bowl with ¼ cup sugar, stir well, and set aside. They will begin to give up their juices after about ten minutes.
- While the berries are standing, whip the cream. It can help to chill the beaters and bowl as well as the cream—just put them in the fridge ahead of time. Place the cream in the bowl and stir in the remaining sugar and the vanilla. Beat at high speed, or the “whipped cream” setting on your mixer until the cream forms peaks and holds its shape. If you have not done this before, the secret is to watch the cream like a hawk as you do this. Don’t stop, don’t answer the phone, do it when the kids are not around. The moment you see those peaks form, STOP. Your cream will turn very quickly into butter and be useless, and there is no time to waste.
- Check your berries, which should be forming delicious syrupy juice by now. Take about half of them and puree them in the blender. Mix the puree back into the bowl with the other berries. Using a flat rubber or similar spatula, gently fold the cream in just until blended. Portion your fruit fool among the bowls you’ve chosen for serving. You can chill this for a couple of hours. Decorate your dessert servings with the reserved berries and perhaps a few choice mint leaves if you’re fortunate enough to have them. Serve with the cookies. You may save a spoonful of the whipped cream for each of your four dessert servings to decorate them.
This recipe adapts beautifully to all sorts of berries. You will need to taste carefully for sweetness as you go on and be flexible according to the sweetness of your berries. Blueberries may require more sugar, blackberries somewhat less.
As you savor your delicious creation, think of Lizzie and Darcy wandering in the country finding wild berries to bring home. Enjoy this wonderful dessert just as Our Favorite Couple must have enjoyed it and be thankful you have an electric blender and mixer!!
The original of this recipe was developed by Mark Bittman and published in the New York Times. I have embroidered it with my own experiences and methods and tried to make it easy for beginning cooks.
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