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Every Tuesday at 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m., Tom Harte shares a few thoughts on food and shares recipes. A founder of “My Daddy’s Cheesecake,” a bakery/café in Cape Girardeau, a food columnist for The Southeast Missourian, and a cookbook author, he also blends his passion for food with his passion for classical music in his daily program, The Caffe Concerto.

A Harte Appetite: A Trifle is the Perfect Showstopper for Any Table

flickr user Nathan (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Perhaps you remember the classic episode of the television sitcom "Friends" in which Rachel, a notoriously bad cook, concocts a trifle.

As Rachel describes to dinner guests Ross and Joey the contents of her version of the classic English layered dessert, the two become suspicious, for interspersed among the typical tiers of ladyfingers, jam, custard, whipped cream, and berries there is a layer of beef sautéed with peas and onions.

Not surprisingly, the dish is not a huge success and, curious, Ross surreptitiously takes a look at the cookbook where Rachel found the recipe only to discover to his astonishment that some of its pages have stuck together.  As a consequence, Rachel created a combination trifle and shepherd’s pie.

The moral of this story is that a trifle should be taken seriously.  It is the perfect showstopper for any table.

Thanks probably to William the Conqueror, the name for Britain's most esteemed dessert comes from the French word for inconsequential.  But a trifle is anything but.

Perhaps it was originally considered trivial because, according to legend, it was devised as a way to use up leftovers, especially stale cake.  Whatever else it might contain, a trifle has just three basic elements:  cake or something similar, fruit, and custard, all topped off, of course, with whipped cream.  Moreover, each of these elements is amenable to variation.

For the cake layer, for example, you could use Swiss rolls -- like they do at Fortnum & Mason, the great London food emporium in Piccadilly.  The possibilities inherent in altering just three variables are innumerable.  Not surprisingly Pinterest has over a thousand versions.

Preferably a trifle is served in a pedestaled glass bowl to show off its layers.  But no matter what it’s served in, a trifle is typical British understatement.  

Tom Harte is a retired faculty member from Southeast Missouri State University where he was an award-winning teacher, a nationally recognized debate coach, and chair of the department of Speech Communication and Theatre.
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