The Trifle is the epitome of a British dessert. The earliest known recipe dates back to the Tudors in 1596. It has travelled the world and been considerably tweaked along the way. Mum´s version is a really simple one, delicious nonetheless.
She used to prepare sherry trifles and put them in the fridge, bar the freshly whipped double cream and cherry which would be prepared and decorated on demand. I would often sneak into the kitchen whilst doing my homework and take one of these unfinished trifles when no-one was looking. Mum often pondered why she seemed to frequently miscount.
Later when I worked for a well known car company, I remember one of the CEOs being introduced. He had spent some time in America and the lady introducing him said, “His favourite dessert is trifle.”, she pronounced it“triffel” and scarcely anybody took any notice as nobody seemed to have heard of trifle. But this made him come alive for me, a person who loves trifle, was a fine person in my book.
The rule of trifle: You must be able to distinguish the layers.
My very simple trifle ist vegan and glutenfree using Italian gluten free sponge fingers, soya custard and soya cream.
The Victorians’ diet may have been healthier than ours
There have been several programs on British television about Victorian cooking. It might surprise you to hear that a study published in the Royal Society of Medicine, named How the Mid-Victorians worked, Ate and Died, concluded that the great amount of physical activity (most jobs were physically demanding and workers were not seldomly active for up to 60 hours a week and more), combined with a diet which included many fruits, whole grains, oily fish and vegetables resulted in Victorians suffering less from chronic, degenerative diseases than we do.
One of the authors of the study, Dr. Paul Clayton says the Victorians were an astonishing 90% less likely to develop cancer, dementia and coronary artery disease than we are today. It also meant that diseases like type-2 diabetes, which is becoming an epidemic now, were hardly apparent.
But I wouldn´t go as far as to say, trifle is a particularly healthy dessert.
The first mention of trifle
The first mention of trifle, actually describes more of a flavoured cream, which consisted of whipped cream, rosewater, ginger spices and sugar. The 18th century trifle bore more resemblance to what we know today. Ratafia biscuits and macaroons drenched with sweet wine, then a layer of rich custard and a layer of whipped cream, which was often flavoured, too. Our modern trifle originated in the Hannah Glassé’s The Art of Cooking Made Easy, 1755 guide.
During Victorian times the popularity of trifle surged. It was such a good way to use up sponge and fruits. The Victorians were quite frugal. A very detailed, complicated and expensive version of Victorian trifle can be found in Mrs. Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management, which was first published as a complete book in 1861. Ingredients are: Home-made custard with 8 eggs, “the whip” to go on top which is more or less syllabub, home-baked sponges and more. On the Website Coquinaria, you will find the complete recipe, along with many other historical recipes. Have a browse Coquinaria
The dessert trolley ruined its career
In the seventies trifle lost some of it´s fame due to being a constant member on the dessert trolley. Remember the times when the dessert trolley was brought to your table? Another favourite was the Black Forest gateau.
Revival of the Trifle
However, the trifle has experienced somewhat of a revival, not least because you can let your imagination run wild with it. With or without jelly, with meringue, butterscotch and so much more. In 2001 an entire book by Helen Saberi and Alan Davidson was devoted to Trifle. The book is full of anecdotes and exotic variations of trifle. The late Alan Davidson was one of Britain’s best food writers. There is one rule with trifle though – you have to be able to distinguish the layers in a real trifle.