Robert May’s Black Fruit Fool

Robert May worked as a chef for the Countess of Kent, a woman whose great love of food is evident in her 1653 book, A True Gentlewomans Delight. May’s own book, The Accomplisht Cook (1660), is one that has inspired me for over thirty years—along with John Evelyn’s Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets (1969), which served as a guide for my vegetable garden in Massachusetts before I became a professional chef.

This fruit mixture was called “black tart stuff” by Robert May, the name being one commonly given to open-tart fillings that are “rich and wonderful without being as heavy and cloying as mincemeat” (Elizabeth David). It is important to cook the prunes separately from the raisins, since the very sweet, cloying, and slightly sulfurous liquid from the raisins will ruin the pure flavors of the prunes in wine.

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Ingredients

  • ½ pound large prunes
  • ½ cup red wine
  • ¼ cup ruby port
  • 4 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • ¼ pound large raisins (preferably Spanish Moscatels)
  • ¼ cup currants or little raisins
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • ½ cup herb flowers or rose petals

Method

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Put the prunes in a nonreactive ovenproof casserole with the wine, port, brown sugar, and enough water (2 to 3 cups) to cover them. Cover and cook at 300 degrees for 2 hours, or until they are completely soft and have absorbed most of the liquid.

Meanwhile, put the raisins and currants in another casserole with water to cover them, cover, and put the casserole in the oven with the prunes for their last hour of cooking.

Remove the prunes and take out the pits. Puree them with all their liquid through a food mill or sieve. Drain the raisin-currant mixture, puree it also, and mix into the prune puree with the salt. Discard the liquid.

Put the fool into a chilled glass bowl just large enough to hold it with 2 inches to spare. Pour the cream on top. Garnish with herb flowers or rose petals, and serve with shortbread.

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