Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Food for Fool’s Day.

Naturally today’s story must have an April Fool Feel. Last year someone thought that the Old Foodie Joke was that I published the story a day early. I didn’t. It was already April Fool’s Day in this part of the world. I won’t tell you which country the person came from, but when I related the story to The Old Foodie Spouse, he rolled his eyes and said “Only in A….., Only in A….. ” . Sometimes (sigh) the rest of you need reminding that those of us down here Down Under have done a full day’s work before you have your first caffeine fix for the day. Think of me as an early-reminding system for special days, if you like.

I cannot send you back to 2006, because Fool’s Day fell on a Saturday, so no post. In 2007 there was a concession to the joking spirit of the day with a story on ‘Surprising Food’. In 2008 we had the Great Spaghetti Harvest - complete with 1950’s BBC footage (thankyou, You Tube) – still the best ever April Fool’s Day joke. Ever. Ever. Ever. No matter how Ba! Humbug! you feel about Fool’s Day, do yourself a favour and click on that link and laugh out loud. Only in Britain, folks, Only in 1950’s Britain could that joke have been played out so well.

The spaghetti harvest story is impossible to top. Today, at risk of appearing drearily obvious, I am going to talk about Fools. No, I don’t mean those of you who can’t think outside your own time-zone. I mean the very old-fashioned dessert dish. A food ‘fool’, according to the OED is “a dish composed of fruit stewed, crushed, and mixed with milk, cream, or custard”. The first supporting quotation given is from Florio’s Italian/English Dictionary of 1598 (so contemprary with Shakespeare), which is a curiously roundabout way of explaining an English dish. The definition is “Mantiglia, a kinde of clouted creame called a foole or a trifle in English.”

So, did a ‘fool’ always contain fruit? And what is the difference between a fool and a trifle? We would probably say today that a trifle has cake in it (the Old Foodie Spouse refers to trifle as ‘wet cake and custard’), but does that mean that a fool cannot have cake? And if not cake, what about ‘sippets’ (bread), as in this definition-that-is-almost-a-recipe, from Holme’s Armoury of 1688:

“Foole is a kind of Custard, but more crudelly; being made of Cream, Yolks of Eggs, Cinamon, Mace boiled: and served on Sippets with sliced Dates, Sugar, and white andred Comfits, strawed thereon.”

Mantiglia - the dish - remains a mystery to me. Google Translate tells me that mantiglia means mantilla. Someone with a good knowledge of sixteenth century Italian food please explain the food connection. Is it somewhat like the English ‘Cabbidge Cream’ in which the very thick cream is rippled and spooned and arranged like crinkly cabbage leaves? Is the cream made to suggest a lace mantilla?

P.S. There was a Rhubarb Fool from the 1870’s and Hannah Glasse’s Gooseberry Fool from 1747 in previous posts, should you want more substance to your recipes.

Quotation for the Day.

Tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers.
Shakespeare, in Romeo and Juliet.


Foose said...

"Manta" (from which "mantilla" is built) means "blanket" in Spanish ... perhaps the meaning might be "little blanket" (the literal translation of mantilla) but spelled in Italian ...?

Marisa Raniolo Wilkins said...

After trailing through the web and doing a lot of guess work, I think that ‘mantiglia’
(Italian for ‘mantle’) was a culinary term used during the Renaissance for the cream that could be skimmed from the surface of milk after it had been boiled and cooled. I think that because the milk was so rich the skin of the milk was quite considerable. It was like a mantle over the milk. The ‘mantilla’ was the original Spanish name for it. In English it may have been called ‘hollow milk’ but I am not sure, I cannot find any references to this. The cream was used to make 'lattemiele’ which was the beaten version of the ‘mantiglia’

Isn’t this how clotted cream is made?’

Christopher Messisbugo wrote a culinary history during the Renaissance called "Banquets and compositions of food," and there are references in this text about how to make and use dairy products especially those to be consumed with sugar. Messisbugo worked for the Este family of Ferrara, or Carlo Nascia, the chef of the Farnese Court.