A trifle (culinarily speaking) is, according to the OED “A light confection of sponge-cake or the like, esp. flavoured with wine or spirit, and served with custard and whipped cream”, although it used to mean simply “a dish of cream boiled with various ingredients”. The latter definition makes it closer to a modern-day fool, which is entirely cakeless – again according to the OED which defines it as “A dish composed of fruit stewed, crushed, and mixed with milk, cream, or custard”. To complicate matters, however, an earlier use of fool referred to a simpler dish of “a kind of clouted [clotted] cream” – which sometimes had sweet spices and eggs in it, which means it was a sort of fruitless custard.
All of which means that the words trifle and fool have, in the past, been used in a random fashion. Overall, the OED would have us believe that a trifle can be a fool, but a fool cannot be a trifle, because no definition of fool includes cake.
Interestingly, our source of the week, Hannah Woolley’s Gentlewoman’s Companion (1673) has a recipe for a fool which is closer to a modern trifle – but instead of cake it has bread. How about “Wet Bread and Custard, TOFS?”
Take a quart of thick Sweet Cream, and set it boiling in a clear scoured Skillet with some large Mace, and whole Cinamon; having boiled it a little while, take the yolks of five or six Eggs beaten well, and put to it; being off the fire, take out the Cinamon and Mace; the Cream being pretty thick, slice a fine Manchet [i.e loaf of fine white bread] into thin slices as many as will cover the bottom of the Dish, and then pour on the Cream; trim the Dish with carved Sippets, and stick it with sliced Dates and scrape Sugar all over it.
Previous Recipes for this theme:
Quotation for the Day …
That most wonderful object of domestic art called trifle,..with its charming confusion of cream and cake and almonds and jam and jelly and wine and cinnamon and froth. O.W. Holmes.