A foole, later shortened to fool, is a dessert made by blending pureed sweetened fruit with sweetened whipped cream or cooled custard. It can easily be traced from the 17th century, and with a little effort could probably be found earlier. It is as delightful and refreshing today as it was centuries ago.
The exact origin of the dish is lost to time, as are many others. Some sources claim it began in the 14th century, which it well may have, while others date it to 1598 though no one seems to quote the source for the recipe from that date. The earliest I have found so far is from 1658 in The Good Huswife’s Jewell by Thomas Dawson. – London. 1658.
The origin of the word fool was found in Ebenezer Cobham Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: Giving the Source, or Origin of Common Phrases, Allusions, and Words that have a Tale to Tell. The information continues to be passed from book to book and blog to blog today. “A corruption of gooseberry foule milled, mashed, pressed. The French have foulè de pommes; foulè de raisins; foulè de groscilles, our ‘gooseberry fool. Gooseberry fool is a compound made of gooseberries scalded and pounded with cream”. – 1905. London & Philadelphia.
The receipt from The Compleat Cook is for a custard-type base with fruit. Receipt as follows.
Take your gooseberries and put them in a silver or earthen pot, and set it in a skillet of boiling water, and when they are coddled enough, strain them; when they are scalding hot beat them well with a good piece of butter, rose-water and sugar, and put in the yolk of two or three egg, you may put rose-water into them, and so stir it altogether and serve it to the table when it is cold. Annonymous. London. 1658.
For comparison, I offer Robert Smith’s receipt from 1725, also a custard-base dessert.
Take a quart of gooseberries and scald them tender and drain them from the water through a cullender, squeeze them with a spoon. Then take a quart or three pints of new cream and six eggs, yolks and whites well beaten, and put to the cream, grate a small nutmeg into it and mix some orange-flower water and sugar and sweeten to your palate: Set all over a gentle fire and stir it until you see it of a good thickness, then take it off and cool a little, put into dishes. – Smith, Robert. Court Cookery. 1725. London.
The following is a classic early 18th century version of fool which was not custard-based.
Scald two quarts of young gooseberries till they are soft, put them through a hair sieve with the back of a spoon, sweeten the pulp very well. When cold, mix it with a little thin cream or milk till it is smooth, then add thick cream; mix it well, and send it to table. N.B. If you like the seeds, put the gooseberries when scalded through a cullender instead of a sieve. – Taylor, E. The Lady’s Housewife and Cook Maid’s Housewife. 1769.
While gooseberries were initially the most commonly used fruit for fools, other fruits in season were soon found in cookery books such as strawberries, raspberries, apples, apricots, cherries, etc. A receipt for strawberry or raspberry fool was published in 1739.
Take a pint of Raspberries, squeeze and strain the juice with orange-flower water; put to the juice five ounces of fine sugar; then set a pint of cream over the fire, and let it boil up; then put in the juice, give it one stir round, and then put it into your bason; stir it a little in the bason, and when it is cold use it. – Smith, E. The Compleat Housewife: Or, Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion. 1739. London.
In the absence of fresh fruit jams and jellies were used, making it possible to serve the dish year-round. For a modern twist, I put the mixture into a graham cracker pie crust and freeze it. I serve it thawed, but with just a hint of ice crystals still present for a light summer dessert.