Fans of the sitcom Friends will know Rachel’s kinky little thing.
“First, there’s a layer of ladyfingers,” Rachel explains in The One Where Ross Got High.
“Then a layer of jam, then custard… raspberries, more ladyfingers. Then beef sautéed with peas and onions. Then pudding and then bananas and then I just put some whipped cream on top.”
The dominant theme here is the addition of ground beef. I’m not so against suggesting something else. But I mention Rachel’s little thing because there’s also a lot to admire. Namely their timing. If you rewatch the episode, her trifle is done on cue and only sits a short while before her buddies dive in, spoons akimbo.
It means that apart from the beef, peas, and onions, the trifle would be just and satisfying. Because I really can’t think of many desserts worse than a soggy little thing: one that sits in the fridge for half a day or more to volcanically collapse in on itself.
Today, after the coronation, I should imagine a lot of squishy little things being pulled out of refrigerators. Large chunks will go into light-colored bowls, a soggy mix of sickly cream and crumbling chunks of fruit. What a definite mess it all must be.
Look at the sponge fingers. These absolutely need to be steeped in brandy, Madeira or Sherry or Chambord, but if left to stand too long they become a kind of alcoholic sediment that meanders into something more akin to baby food than anything tasty. The fact is that their shape is completely lost with a probe of a serving utensil, and what is a trifle without a finger?
Now, reluctantly, we come to the jelly. An element that I find disturbing in any situation. Jell-o is usually too wobbly and unpredictable for me. I don’t hate jelly, but I certainly don’t like it with custard. Together they are structurally unhealthy. Most little things these days seem to contain jelly and so I find most little things off-putting from the start, regardless of the time that has passed. Remove jelly from the equation and I can proceed. This is mainly because I would never do without pudding, an absolutely royal creation.
Pudding is pudding and we’ll leave it at that. Nothing really happens to him in the fridge or after 24 hours. In fact, I prefer it super cold, preferably from a tub that says ‘Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference’.
However, fruit does not do well in the refrigerator. It gets squispier by the hour, losing all semblance of virtue as it softens. Both the taste and the structure are quickly affected at five degrees. A little thing has to be cold – but too long in harsh conditions and suddenly what is a beautifully layered bout of English is a crumbling mess of sugar and false patriotism.
The creme? What can I say? It’s up there, unused. Though I’m about to ask why anyone would serve a snack without toasted almonds on top. Imagine. And yet it happens almost every day – those tiny flakes of texture, forget it. Astonishing.
Too long in harsh conditions and suddenly what should be a beautifully layered bout of English is a crumbling mess of sugar and false patriotism
This is all just another case of carelessness. A dish that has the capacity – without jelly – to be good is usually terrible. Like poached eggs or risotto – two other potentially excellent dishes that are usually indulgent – people think they are industrious and serving others when in reality they are building cheap houses on green land and the rot will soon set in. Fences never last, no matter how strong the varnish.
I’m not saying that home cooks have to be super fastidious about the little things. That’s not the Colosseum. But we might consider pushing spongy numbers out of the UK as we enter a new era.
I beg this nation to follow in Rachel’s place: do the small things, serve the small things. Don’t let it get any smaller or the whole mix is nothing but disastrous.