Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat

Illustrator:  Sophie Blackall 
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House, 2015   ISBN: 978-0375868320

Long ago, more than three hundred years ago, in the English town of Lyme, a little girl and her mother collected blackberries. When they got home the mother skimmed the cream from the milk that their cow had given them, and then she began to beat the cream with a homemade twig whisk. Even when her arm ached she kept on beating until she had thick and delicious whipped cream. The cream was mixed with the fruit and sugar, chilled in the icehouse and then it was served after dinner. Everyone enjoyed the treat and the little girl, in the kitchen, licked the bowl clean.

Around two hundred years ago, in a city called Charleston in South Carolina in the United States, a little slave girl and her mother picked blackberries in the garden of the plantation where they lived. Cream was delivered to the kitchen, and using a metal whisk the little girl beat the cream until her arm ached. She and her mother mixed the fruit and sugar into the cream and then they took the treat to the basement and put it into a cooler box. After supper that evening the master and his family ate the dessert, and later the mother and her little girl hid in a linen closet and licked the bowl clean.

The recipe was then used by a family in Boston in the early 1900’s, and then, just a few years ago, it was used by a father and son living in California. From person to person, all the way from England to the United States, and then all around the United States, people through the centuries have made the “fine dessert” in their homes.

The author of this book takes us on a journey through time, and the connection between the four stories, the four places, and the four families, is a recipe. We see how different tools were used at different times to beat the cream and to chill the dessert; we see too how the families changed over time and how the kitchen, which was once the domain of women, becomes a place where a father and son can be together.

With great care Sophie Blackall takes her readers from place to place. Every detail, from clothes and furniture to kitchen tools, was carefully researched so that each stop on the journey is historically accurate. She even made and used a whisk similar to the one that the girl from Lyme might have used. She even made the recipe and used the leftover berry juice to color the endpapers for the book. And yes, like all the characters in the book, she licked the bowl.

This is a wonderful book that anyone who has spent time working in a kitchen will appreciate. Children will enjoy seeing how the kitchens change over time, and they will surely enjoy trying to make berry fool for themselves. The recipe is included!