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Friday, May 1, 2015

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat. Written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Schwartz & Wade Books, Random House. 2015. $20.99 ages 5 and up

"A bit more than one
hundred years ago, in
a city called Boston,
Massachusetts, a girl
and her mother bought
two wooden boxes of
blackberries at an
open-air market."

This is another stellar book that you should not read if you are hungry. It will only make you crave a basket full of blackberries (or any berries, for that matter), some sugar and a overflowing cupful of cream.

In an extraordinary new picture book we are invited to see how one recipe has been passed from one century to the next, through generations of appreciative diners. Over 300 years ago in a town in England, a mother and her children pick blackberries. It is not easy work;  but, it is worth the purple hands and the prickly thorns. When they get home, the daughter milks the cow, the mother skims the cream and, using a small bundle of twigs, beats it until it is completely whipped (as is she). It takes fifteen minutes. Now, they have everything they need to make 'a fine dessert' meant to follow the evening meal. The little girl licks the  spoon and later the bowl.

One hundred years later, in South Carolina, another girl and her mother pick blackberries in the plantation garden. The cream comes from a dairy. The girl beats that cream with a metal whisk. Ten minutes later, it is ready to be added to the other ingredients and stacked on ice until it is needed for the master and his family. The helper licks the spoon; the little girl and her mother lick the bowl together once the meal is served.

Fast forward one hundred years to Boston where a girl and her mother buy the blackberries from an open market. Upon arrival at their home, they find glass bottles containing pasteurized cream delivered to their doorstep. The mother follows a recipe, using a rotary beater to whip the cream (in five minutes). Once the blackberry fool is mixed, it is stored in an icebox to await consumption at the family meal. The little girl licks the spatula and later, the inside of the bowl.

In today's world, in California, a boy and his dad buy both blackberries and cream at their nearest grocery. Once home, the father prints a recipe from the Internet, the boy beats the cream with an electric mixer (in two minutes), and together they follow the recipe to completion. The boy licks the spatula. The fool is stored in the refrigerator in readiness for a neighborhood potluck dinner. Once the guests have returned home, the boy licks the inside of the bowl.

A recipe follows; guaranteed to entice and delight all willing to follow the directions for making a 'fine dessert'.

In Emily Jenkins' adept hands this historical journey concerning food preparation shows children the changes that have occurred from one century to the next, in terms of one particular recipe. She uses repetition and a patterned form to ensure that they will see those differences. Despite those differences, one thing remains the same ... blackberry fool has been eaten with great enjoyment around the world for hundreds of years. Why? Because it is delicious!

Without Sophie Blackall's art, readers would not move so easily from one century to the next. The delicate simplicity of her artwork using Chinese ink, watercolor and blackberry juice allows children  historical perspective for food preparation, clothing, traditions in each of the settings. The tools used, the methods employed, the refrigeration of said dessert may be different, the end result is the same ... enjoy! And, don't forget to lick the final remaining deliciousness. Mmm!

Notes from the author, the illustrator and a source list are informative and assure understanding of the entire process.

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