A Fool and a Mess

Christmas and the holidays is a wonderful time for gooseberries, currants, berries and stone fruits.  I have just experienced ten glorious days with Peter’s family in Hawkes Bay where you can go and pick your own berries or visit orchards that sell tree ripened stonefruit.

Monica, Beau and Tansy all helping to Pick Your Own Berries for my raspberry jam producton
from Ruby Glen off Meeanee Road,  and the juiciest stone fruits from Seamans on
Basil Road off Meeanee Road, Napier

My sister in law Monica is the one who gathers all the family around her table. I was only too happy to relieve her of some of the cooking duties and to try out desserts that are naughtily creamy but work so well with summer fruits.

A Fool fits in with holiday routine as you can prepare it ahead of time, or cheat and purchase the custard and meringues, and put together with little effort. The same can be said about an Eton Mess!!

My revived fascination with Fool was sparked just before Christmas when I received from my sister Kerry in Dunedin a beautifully packaged parcel of her gooseberries.

Murray is Kerry’s cat.

Up here in the sub tropical north, I miss the southern gooseberry season .  These well travelled gooseberries were like gold so I quickly froze half for later use in my favourite gooseberry recipe, see “Gooseberry Shortcake and Sweet Cicely” (Sept 2012) and the other half I used to make the classic English dessert, Gooseberry Fool.

I previously made the fool with 50/50 cream and yoghurt in “Five Good Things with Gooseberries” (December 2012) but this time I made the fool using a mix of custard and cream.  You can use yoghurt instead of cream.

Gooseberry Fool dates back to 17th Century England, but the origin of its quirky name is not agreed upon.   Some suggest it comes from the French word foule ( translated means milled, mashed, pressed).  I discovered on the The Historic Foodie Blog  foulè de groscilles is the French version of Gooseberry Fool. The original trifle recipe dates nearly as far back as Gooseberry Fool and reads a lot like my recipe with custard, fruit and cream mixed together. The addition of sponge cake in trifle came later.

Gooseberry Fool

First step is to make a rich custard:

4 egg yolkes
500 ml of full cream milk (or 50/50 milk and cream but I felt there was enough cream in this Fool recipe)
100 g castor sugar
1 vanilla pod split lengthways ( you can use 1tsp vanilla essence instead)
1 Tbsp cornflour

I make this custard in a pyrex bowl over top of a pot of boiling water (keep the water level just beneath of the glass bowl)… you can make this custard in a pot on the stove but you have to keep an eagle eye on it so that it doesnt catch and burn on the bottom.

First heat the milk with the split vanilla pod until really hot but not boiling.
In a separate bowl beat the egg yolks, add sugar and beat; then mix in the cornflour.
Now pour and stir the egg mix into the milk.

Cooking custard in doubleboiler set up take longer but avoids sticking on the bottom.

Stir regularly until the custard thickens enough to coat the wooden spoon and remains.

Cover the top of the custard with kitchen paper and gently
press to make a seal with the paper.  This will avoid the custard
forming a skin as it cools.

Allow to cool, then once at room temperature put the custard into the fridge.

Next step, cook up your gooseberries – I had 400g and added 75 gm of sugar…  (if you have more gooseberries then use the same ratio of berries/ sugar).  Next, melt a knob of butter then add fruit and sugar – no water necessary as the water comes out of the berries as they cook. If making this at the beginning of the gooseberry season while Elderflowers are around, add in a head of blooms.  Alternatively,  a slurp of elderflower cordial will add that extra dimension to your fool.

Once the fruit and custard are cooled, beat the cream – I used approx 200ml of cream.  You could replace the cream with a thick Greek style yoghurt.  Once mixed, chill well before serving.

At Christmas, I made another Fool, this time using cooked apricots.  It’s a great use for apricot seconds that don’t look or taste perfect enough for eating raw.   When cooked, they have a far better flavour.

If you have apricots that are not very tasty when eaten raw, you should cook them… but
if you have good eating apricots on hand then simply puree with a little lemon juice
and sugar to taste.   If you need more liquid, add some apple juice.

On tasting the fool I realised that there was not enough of the apricot flavour pushing its way through the custard and cream.  To improve the flavour, I quickly pureed about half a dozen raw ripe apricots with a little caster sugar and apple juice and gently mixed it through as a ripple. I served the apricot fool with fresh raspberries.  The raspberries were macerated in caster sugar.

Macerating fruit is just like marinating savoury dishes.  For fruit, use fine sugar or syrups, adding lemon juice or liqueur if desired. Allowing the fruit to sit in sugar for an hour sweetens the tartness, heightening the flavour and creating a delicious sauce. This also gives an appetizing gloss to the fruit.

At it’s simplest, Fool is stewed or crushed fresh fruit, folded into whipped cream. I have discovered the custard component adds a richer flavour to the Fool. While my Apricot fool was a little runnier than I had wanted (for the custard I used 3 egg yolks leftover from Pavlova making instead of 4 in the recipe I had previously used).  However, it was eagerly lapped up by the family and pronounced delicious.

Eton Mess

This dessert has a more modern origin that many a busy mum can identify with.  On the way to an Eton College sports day an anxious mother discovered to her horror that the pavlova she had made for the boys had been squashed and broken in transit.
As so often happens in the kitchen, out of disaster sometimes a new dish is created.  She mixed up the broken pavlova with the fresh fruit and cream creating what is now called, ‘Eton Mess’.

Actually, it does look a complete mess, but you can make it look a lot tidier and prettier by doing what I did and keep some of the berry fruit aside and placing on top along with some small lemon balm leaves for a touch of contrasting green. It may look a mess but it tastes delicious. These days, Eton Mess tends to be made with meringues instead of pavlova.

The crystal bowl that belonged to Peter and Monica’s Mum gave
the Fool that extra “glam” presentation

I had about 500g of blackberries that I allowed to macerate in lemon juice, 2 big tablespoons of caster sugar and a splash of apple juice.  I wanted to add some sweetness to the blackberries because they were quite tart.  Separate out as many fruits as you think will help to decorate the top.

Crush 8-10 meringues – making sure there are some big pieces as well as crushed meringue.
Add to the fruit but don’t stir yet. Keep one meringue for the top

Next, beat a 250 ml bottle of cream until stiff but still soft.  Do not over beat.

Add the cream and softly fold rather than mix.

Scatter the fruit and crush the last meringue on top.  Use mint leaves or lemon balm, as I have, to contrast.  If using yellow fruits in the Mess then some orange, red or yellow nasturiums or blue borage are decorative options.

My niece Francie said this is one of her favourite desserts and gave me 4 out of 5 for my Eton Mess.
She said if I had used homemade meringues I would have got 5 out of 5.  Francie knows about good meringues and treasures her grandmother Molly’s meringue recipes. Molly had more than one recipe … and a reputation for producing great meringues.  Francie has been trying to find that crunchy yet chewy meringue recipe that Molly used to make for her when she was a small child.  She thinks she has found it, and if it’s the right one, she will share it with us at a later date.

This is one of the best things I love about cooking; the sharing of recipes especially those foods that generate memories of childhood treats.

Yes, you can have too much cream… so no more Eton Mess or Fool for me now that Christmas festivities are over and I’m back at work, sitting on my bum all day in an office.

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