restricted access A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins (review)
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Jenkins, Emily A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat; illus. by Sophie Blackall. Schwartz & Wade, 2015 38p Library ed. ISBN 978-0-375-96832-7 $20.99 Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-375-86832-0 $17.99 E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-375-98771-7 $10.99     R* 6-9 yrs

This gracefully crafted picture book looks at the tasty old-fashioned dessert of blackberry fool over four centuries. First it’s in England in 1710 that a girl and her mother pick the berries, whip the cream (and lick the spoon!), chill it in a cold spot and then serve it up to the very pleased family. Then it’s in Charleston in 1810 that an African-American woman and her daughter prepare the dessert and then serve it up to the master’s family. In Boston in 1910 a mother and daughter enjoy the convenience of pasteurized cream and a rotary beater as they prepare the dish. Finally, a father and son in 2010 pull the recipe off the internet, shop for the ingredients, enjoy the benefits of electricity in preparing them, and then serve the dessert up to a feast for a multicultural cast of friends. This is classic Jenkins in its seemingly casual, observation-rich text; the folkloric structure of the process (and isn’t the learning of food preparation a kind of folklore?) makes the prose rhythmic and readable, while the changing settings mark the significant historical and industrial shifts over the centuries. The untold backstory of the sequence featuring the enslaved African-American woman challenges the book’s tranquil domestic presentation, but there are subtle indicators (the girl and her mother “hid in the closet” to lick the bowl together) that point the observant to the troubling truth (and the author’s note delves deeper into the issue), and her inclusion is an appropriate acknowledgment of the importance of such women in the culinary tradition. Blackall’s delicate ink and watercolor art is well suited to period portrayals; soft detailing and repeated compositional patterning that echoes the textual repetition makes for attractive design, but there’s enough shadow and precision to give some steel to the sweetness. Sharp-eyed viewers will spot repeated motifs (look for the horse statuette, for instance) and will also note similarities and contrasts even beyond those foregrounded by the text. A recipe for blackberry fool is included; a historical note, a list of sources, and an illustrator’s note about research are appended.