In my kitchen are multi-colored Gerbera daisies that make me smile. The bright, jaunty colors remind me of Harlequin, the jester-like comic figure from Commedia dell’arte. Or, come to think of it, they are like the flowers worn as big boutonnieres by clowns – the practical joke kind that squirt. Foolish flowers for April Fools.
By coincidence, over the last few months, I’ve found some amazing connections between fool and food – that is, beyond the mere substitution of the final “l” for a “d”. It all started with ladyredspeck’s post for Passionfruit Flummery back in early February. As a descriptive word, flummery means complete nonsense or foolishness. It is also the name of a certain type of mousse-like dessert – like my raspberry “cheat” mousse, made with flavored gelatine, whipped evaporated milk and the last of my garden’s raspberries that had been frozen last September. Coincidentally, the slang “blowing a raspberry” is another bit of slap-stick nonsense – from Cockney rhyming slang, “raspberry tart” ⇒ “fart”.
The original flummery, popular in Britain from the 17th to the 19th century, was a type of sweet made using the strained gelatinous liquid from stewed grain flour (generally oats). It has its origins in the traditional Welsh dish, Llymru, from which it derives its name. It’s also like the traditional Slavic oat gelatine known as kissel in Russian, or the Germanic Grütze puddings. My experiments recreating flummery eventually led me to the unfortunately entitled 17th century recipe “Pap of Oat-Meal” – a kind of custardy version of flummery. Let’s just say those experiments are still a “work-in-progress”. While I was making it, I kept having déjà vu of all those school craft projects involving homemade glue. Despite the texture, the taste was nice. However, I guess it’s back to the drawing board to perfect that pap of oat-meal. However, the accompanying blackcurrant sauce, made with more berries frozen from the garden, was just right – absolutely delicious, tart and sweet.
The use of nonsense words for similar sweets at the conclusion of a meal was commonplace in earlier times – hence flummery, but also trifle and of course, the ultimate fool. In an attempt to use up yet more frozen berries from my freezer, to make room for this year’s crop from the garden, I unearthed both red and green gooseberries beneath the container of raspberries I used for the “cheat” mousse above. Gooseberries make a classic fool – in this case a bicolored one with two different types of gooseberries (see my post Goosegogs). Ironically, British slang “gooseberry” can be applied to someone who plays the fool – that is, the third wheel, an unwanted person attached to a couple. So, does that make Gooseberry Fool doubly foolish?
In my kitchen are humbugs for “grumpy ol’ gits” – a British species of hard mint candy. Humbug means something devoid of sense or meaning and often applied to something that tricks, deceives or perpetrates a hoax. Another sweet edible piece of nonsense and the only “grumpy ol’ git” I permit in my kitchen.
For a bit of savory nonsense, one does not have to look further than the duck, French canard. Yet, as an English word, canard means a hoax, a fib, an exaggeration…very much like many April Fools’ jokes. Its origins is based on a long forgotten punchline from a French joke that seems to have involved a confidence trickster’s sale of a non-existent duck to a foolish mark. However, there is nothing foolish about Römertopf Roast Duck posted by Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. I followed her instructions, modifying the temperature and timing slightly to meet the needs of my particular clay pot. It produced a beautifully roasted bird, the succulent meat literally falling off the bone. I highly recommend this cooking method for the duck and will, no doubt, be roasting more duck in my clay pot in future. The duck was sublime with a green olive and fennel sauce from Patricia Wells’ Bistro Cooking. And speaking of fennel, the Italians have a saying non farti infinocchiare, don’t let yourself be fenneled – in other words, don’t let yourself be fooled, based on the way the unscrupulous winemakers and innkeepers mask the smell of inferior wine with the strong aroma of fennel (Italian food sayings from epicurious.com).
But nothing surpasses the French (and Belgian!) Poisson d’Avril – April Fish. On April 1st, cut-out paper fish are attached to the backs of the unsuspecting – a fishy kind of prank – marking them as Poisson d’Avril, the fool. Somewhere I read that this custom came about because of the abundance of young, newly hatched, fish in April that were easily tricked and caught – hence foolish fish. So…in my kitchen are chocolate sardines from the French chocolaterie Michel Cluizel.
There is unexpected humor in my kitchen. My freezer is also lightening its load of last year’s garden produce of all those lovely stocks of berries harvested to see us through lean fruit months. As you can see in my previous post Around My Edible Garden, I’m looking forward to Spring and the beginnings of the new growing season.