When it comes to sweet confections, no dessert has a more misleading name than a fool, a cream-based confection that can be documented within the British culinary lexicon to as early as the late sixteenth century. One version of a fool is known to have been served by Mrs. Frances Loockerman who lived in the circa 1774 Hammond-Harwood House in Annapolis from 1811 to her death in 1857. A recipe for Raspberry Fool, sweetened raspberry pulp folded into whipped cream, was recorded in Mrs. Loockerman’s handwritten journal book, a task which indicates that she favored it and most likely served it frequently to her dinner guests.
Alas, research into the history of fools reveals that not all fools are alike. The earliest known reference to a confectionary foole dates to 1598 when it was defined simply as “a kinde of clouted creame… or a trifle.” Gervase Markham’s circa 1615 cookbook, “The English Housewife,” contains a recipe for a Norfolk Fool, a thick custard made with egg yolks and clotted cream flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg that was poured over bread and garnished with sugar-coated caraway seeds or pieces of cinnamon, slices of dates and/or scraped sugar. Norfolk Fools appear in other contemporary cookbooks, as well, including a version called Westminster Fool made with the addition of wine (usually sack or sherry). A recipe for Westminster Fool even appears in a much later American cookbook, Sarah Rutledge’s c.1847, “The South Carolina Housewife.”
Mrs. Loockerman’s beloved Raspberry Fool represents a type of fool made with fruit purees, a type documented to the seventeenth century. Appropriately, this fool was most likely named after the French term, fouler, meaning to press or crush. The fruits used in these fools typically include gooseberries, oranges, apples, strawberries, and raspberries. These fools were usually thickened with cream and/or eggs. For example, Lord Patrick Ruthven’s circa 1655 recipe for Gooseberry Fool, found in his book, “The Ladies Cabinet Enlarged and Opened,” contains just fruit, sugar, and egg yolks; no dairy at all. However, in Hannah Woolley’s circa 1672 cookbook, “The Queen-Like Closet or Rich Cabinet,” there is a recipe for Gooseberry Fool that combines fruit, sugar, egg yolks, and cream. Another innovative crossover recipe appears in 1690 in John Shirley’s “The Accomplished Ladies Rich Closet,” in which cream thickened with eggs yolks and flavored with sack is poured into a dish lined with bread and raspberry syrup.
One of the earliest recorded recipes for a true raspberry fool was published in Eliza Smith’s circa 1730 cookbook, “The Compleat Housewife.” Smith’s “To Make Strawberry or Raspberry Fool” is a very simple recipe in which sweetened berry juice scented with orange flower water is mixed into thickened hot cream after which the whole mixture is chilled on ice. Many later 18th century Raspberry Fool recipes appear to be copies of Smith’s. However, in 1770, Chef Borella, head confectioner to the Spanish Ambassador in England, published a Raspberry Fool recipe in his book, “The Court and Country Confectioner, or the Housekeeper’s Guide,” whereby the cream and berries were cooked separately, cooled, and then mixed together before service. This type of recipe was also printed in Hannah Glasse’s circa 1800 cookbook, “The Complete Confectioner, or, Housekeeper’s Guide.” A similar type of fool made with gooseberries is found in a cookbook Mrs. Loockerman owned, Elizabeth Hammond’s circa 1819 “Modern Domestic Cookery and Useful Receipts.. Unfortunately, Mrs. Loockerman’s original manuscript has been missing for decades therefore it is impossible to know the source of her recipe; all that is available is the modernized interpretation of that recipe published in 1963 in “Maryland’s Way, The Hammond-Harwood House Cook Book.. Fashionable elites such as Mrs. Loockerman were keen to impress their high-society friends and neighbors; therefore offering them dishes that reflected contemporary trends and tastes was expected. Therefore, it is very possible that she used the recipe in Hammond’s very on-trend circa 1819 cookbook but substituted raspberries for the gooseberries. Ultimately, whoever wrote the modernization no doubt simplified the recipe because it uses whipped heavy cream instead of a boiled cream custard. Either way, this recipe doesn’t suffer fools – so try it for yourself!
Joyce White, a food historian, can be contacted through www.atasteofhistory.net.
MRS. LOOCKERMAN’S RASPBERRY FOOL
A revised adaptation of the recipe printed in “Maryland’s
Way, the Hammond-Harwood House Cook Book” (Annapolis, 1963)
2 cups raspberries (or any other berries or stone fruits)
½ cup sugar
½ pint whipping cream
Wash raspberries and place in a medium-sized saucepan. Add sugar to the fruit and let stand 30 minutes to extract the juice.
Mash berries slightly.
Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring slowly to the boil. Cook until the berries are soft enough to mash easily when pressed with a spoon or spatula.
Pass the fruit through a sieve using a rubber spatula to press out all the juice and pulp, leaving just the seeds behind. Refrigerate until thoroughly cold, about 2 hours.
After it is cold, whip the cream and fold in the fruit puree.
Ladle the fool into serving dishes. Refrigerate or freeze for 2 hours.
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