Lynn: For me, one of the great joys of summer is the luscious, sun-ripened fruit now appearing at our farmer’s market. While my favorite are the heavenly peaches, berries are a close second. Cooks through the ages have loved berries, and thanks to the talented Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall, we have a new way to remember them. A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat (2015) is a picture book for the eyes, ears, heart, and stomach!
According to Jenkins, a fruit fool is one of the oldest recipes in Western culture. With simple language, Jenkins and Blackall follow the making of a blackberry fool by four different cooks over four centuries. In doing so, they chronicle the evolution of kitchen technology, social customs, and fashion. In 1710, a matronly female cook uses a bundle of clean, soft twigs to whip cream. In 1810, slaves on a plantation use a wire whisk. In 2010, a father and his son use an electric mixer to finish the job in just two short minutes. Each scenario offers a wealth of fascinating details for observant readers and presents a character that most children can immediately connect to—an assistant who licks the bowl and beaters clean.
The teacher in me can see a zillion uses for this charming, unique book—from writing prompts, to compare and contrast essays, to discussion starters for history classes. Children can explore informational writing by replicating their own directions for a simple recipe. The book can start a discussion on gender and slavery. I could go on and on. This book is a treasure!
Additional author and illustrator notes provide helpful information about the research process. Of course, there is a recipe to top it off!Cindy: Lynn and I enjoyed the book when it was in its early, galley format, but receiving the finished hardcover version in its beautiful presentation was a treat worthy of this fine dessert. The book was wrapped in blackberry-printed paper, identical to the art inside the book’s cover. Tied to the book with twine was an antique spoon, with the blackberry-splattered recipe underneath! The endpapers were even colored with mashed blackberry juice! Blackall’s folk-art illustrations are the perfect complement to Jenkins’ story. As Lynn suggested, the book is doubly special for its subtle allusions to social progress. At the end, the scene that depicts male cooks and an interracial couple provides a hopeful note—not only are we making progress in our cooking equipment, we are making it in social justice.
After reading the book, I couldn’t resist making a fool, and now my recipe card is a little splattered! As an avid baker I’ve made berry pies, tarts, cobblers, crisps, and muffins, but I’d never even heard of fools. According to Jenkins, the name fool “most likely originated from the french word fouler, which means ‘to mash’ or ‘to press.'” And mash, I did!In the notes section, Blackall says that she made her own twig whisk. Good for her. I seem to have used every utensil and bowl in my kitchen, starting with my potato masher for the berries and ending with my Kitchen Aid Mixmaster for the whipped cream. The resulting fool was fabulous, however, and I carried this fine dessert to Ed Spicer’s annual, literary dinner, where it delighted authors Edith Pattou, Gary Schmidt, and Margaret Willey. Among the other fool samplers at the event were 100 Scope Notes blogger, Travis Jonker, Kalamazoo Bookbug bookstore owner Joanne Parzakonis, and KPL‘s delightful Library Lost & Found blogger, Kevin King.
The payoff made the process well worth the dish washing, and now that I know what I’m doing, I can streamline this process a little more for next time. I was really worried that the liquid berries would dissolve the whipped cream, but it worked just fine. Guess who licked the bowl?