A grouping of assorted fools, a centuries-old English dessert that’s still irresistible today. Photo by Christine Burns Rudelevige

Fools, as the English-speaking world recognizes them, have been around since the 13th century when wordsmiths in England tapped the Old French word “fol” to describe a person who lacks judgment or sense. Dessert fools, though, only date back to the era of the last King Charles. It was during the 1660-1685 reign of Charles II (aka the “Merry Monarch”) that a recipe for the pudding was published in a book called “The Compleat Cook.” These fools were made by whipping sweet custard with stewed fruits, most notably gooseberries.

These fools became so widely known, that English poet Edward Lear penned a nonsensical limerick about them circa 1846.

There was an Old Person of Leeds,
Whose head was infested with beads;
She sat on a stool
And ate gooseberry-fool,
Which agreed with that Person of Leeds.

While tart gooseberries were a fine foil to the rich base, dessert fools have expanded to include other fruits. The Norfolk Fool was made from creamy custard, dates and spices like mace and cinnamon. Westminster Fool, as described by Hannah Glasse in her “The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy,” was an early form of trifle, where a sweet custard flavored with rose petals, mace and nutmeg was poured over “a penny loaf cut into six slices” that had already been soaked in sherry. The recipe for Boodle’s Fool, named after the longstanding private club of the same name frequented by Winston Churchill, calls for a dish, partly lined with plain cake slices, to be filled with cream whipped with orange, lemon and sugar, and then garnished with orange slices.

Given the diversity of fools documented throughout historical English cookery, I don’t feel at all foolish adopting them as a means for using up all the edible bits and bobs in my larder as I go about my spring cleaning. My base is always the same: I combine two parts whipped cream with one part low-fat Greek-style yogurt. The yogurt adds tang and helps the cream to hold its shape should I want to make the dessert 3 to 4 hours ahead of serving it.

To assemble the fool, I take (one part) highly sweetened fruit compote, jam, jelly or syrup that I have in the freezer, fridge, or cupboard, and either stir it into the base to make a pretty, pastel dessert or layer it between dollops of the base for a more dramatic effect. My favorite waste-not fool thus far was made with frozen blueberries boiled with a tablespoon or two of sugar that is mixed with a half empty jar of lemon curd.


To flavor other fools, I’ve also steeped frozen blackberries with honey from my bees and the wilted remains of a bunch of fresh mint. And I’ve thinned a jar of red currant jelly with lemon juice, and then layered it with the fluffy base and a sprinkling of granola for a crunchy addition. I’ve combined minced sushi ginger with a half jar of last summer’s strawberry-vanilla jam for a fool with a bit of a kick. And finally, I’ve tapped the syrup in my $24 jar of Luxardo cherries, stirring it into the base and topping the fool with toasted almond flour from the freezer. I served that one with a cherry on top.

Fools are quick and easy. And now they are a tool to stem food waste, too. Look in the fridge, freezer and the back of your cupboards to see what you have to fool around with. Please drop me a note to tell me about your creations.

Lemon Blueberry Fool is simple and oh-so-good (and we aren’t fooling). Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige


You can serve these in any 4 to 6-ounce vessel, but since they are so pretty I highly recommend using a glass one. I often elevate the elegance of fools by using coupe champagne glasses.

Serves 4

1 cup frozen Maine blueberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup lemon curd
1 cup blueberry Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
2 cups freshly whipped cream

Combine the blueberries, sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Place the pan over medium heat. The berries will thaw and release their juices. Stir to make sure the sugar melts. Simmer until the mixture thickens slightly, 3-4 minutes. Whisk this mixture with the lemon curd. Let the sauce cool to room temperature and then chill it in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

To assemble the fools, fold the blueberry yogurt and lemon zest into the whipped cream. Divide the mixture equally among 4 single-serving vessels. These will sit nicely in the fridge for 3-4 hours. To serve, pour 2-3 tablespoons of the chilled blueberry lemon sauce over each fool.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the editor of Edible Maine magazine and the author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at: cburns1227@gmail.com

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