fools and cream

I'd told myself I was going to take a break from writing about food, but that decision seems to be in conflict with my determination to write about linguisticky things that come up in my day-to-day doings...and it seems like all I do is eat.

Better Half is mad for (AmE=crazy about) gooseberries, a fruit I'd never experienced in the US, though I did know that the kiwi (fruit; BrE) used to be called the Chinese gooseberry. Anyhow, this is the label on the punnet (BrE*) that he bought this week.

I said to him, "Sweetie, you don't have to buy things just because it says on the label that they're perfect for you."

Better Half was not amused. It is a trial to live with me, I must admit.

Gooseberry fool is a traditional British treat, which involves gooseberries (duh), sugar and lots and lots of cream. BH made some when his nan (=grandma) visited Friday, but in an attempt to make it less calorific, replaced some of the cream with yog(h)urt. (Myself, I think that yog(h)urt has its place, but that any excuse to eat cream should not be taken lightly.) Fools can be made with other fruits as well, but gooseberry fool is the king of fools.

Now, I have to give two links for recipes, suitable to each continent's measures and ingredients. For the American version, click here, for a British version, click here. Some recipes include custard in the fool, but that's newfangled tomfoolery.

If it's just about berries, sugar and cream, why do you need different recipes? Well, because cream just isn't the same in the two places. In the US, there are three (basic) types of cream: light cream, heavy cream and whipping cream, which I always thought was a con, because it doesn't seem to be terribly different from heavy cream. In the UK, on the other hand, there are single cream, double cream, whipping cream and clotted cream. Clotted cream has been subjected to heat and is very butter-like, and perfect for spreading on scones with a bit of strawberry jam. As for the first two, one might believe that these are easily translated. Single cream = light cream and double cream = heavy cream. Right?

Wrong! I discovered when I first made my chocolate mousse recipe here. It called for heavy cream, so I bought some double cream. Some double cream is label(l)ed "suitable for spooning"--when you scoop a dollop onto your cake, it'll keep its shape. I made my mousse with non-spooning double cream, but it was still much heavier (48% butterfat) than a heavy cream (36-40%). The mousse was perfectly edible, but it was more like eating a truffle than a mousse. No one could finish their portion, except for BH's sister's better half, The Gardener. The man has the sweetest tooth (full of cavities) and the kind of metabolism that I mention in my prayers. Not only did he finish his own, he finished everyone else's plus the "safety serving" I'd held back in the fridge.

Single cream and light cream have around 18% butterfat. Whipping cream has 30-40%. So, if you have a US recipe that calls for heavy cream, use whipping cream if you're in the UK. North America also has half-and-half, which has 10-12% fat. I've seen it claimed that single cream and half-and-half are the same thing, but really you have to add a little milk to single cream to make it like half-and-half.

Cream is a more serious business in the UK because it is so central a part of pudding (AmE = dessert). Cream is poured over most puddings/desserts, including a cake, true puddings ("sweet dessert, usually containing flour or a cereal product, that has been boiled, steamed, or baked." --American Heritage Dictionary), apple crumble (AmE = apple crisp), or even fresh fruit salad (which, even though I am a great fan of cream, I find a little disgusting). For some desserts/puddings, one is offered warm, pourable custard as an alternative to cream. The only puddings/desserts that I can think of that one doesn't always get cream, custard or ice cream with are those that are already made of cream, custard or ice cream, like fools or trifle--a concoction of sponge cake, (BrE) jelly (AmE=gelatin, usually called by the brand name Jell-o), custard, sherry, cream, and jam. In the US, one might get whipped cream or ice cream with cake, pie or crumble/crisp, but not poured cream.

Another oddity in the gooseberry label: it says "ENGLISH MID SUMMER GOOSEBERRIES", but the county of origin (almost legible in the photo) is Perthshire--in Scotland. I fear for Waitrose (supermarket) if the Scottish nationalists pick up on this slight. (I could say something about the space in mid summer, but hyphenation will have to wait for another post.)

* A note on punnet. Historically, this word refers to a shallow basket for collecting fruit, but these days it's the (often plastic) container that soft fruits are sold in. In AmE, we tend to say a pint of strawberries, referring to the amount, rather than the container, whereas hereabouts one buys a punnet of strawberries. When I refer to the container itself, I'd probably say a pint box. If it were a bushel of strawberries, I'd probably call the container a crate, especially if it were wooden.


  1. I think I'm terrible unBritish cos I hate cream. It's vile stuff, except for clotted which I tolerate on scones. I really dislike pouring cream on any kind of pudding - cake, fruit, anything. Ick.

    We went to a tapas bar on Friday and had a chocolate pudding there which was served with alcohol-laced chantilly, which prompted a discussion about whether chantilly ought to be always alcohol-laced.

  2. A former colleague wrote off-blog to comment that she remembered being surprised at being served cheesecake with cream poured over it in London. This is very common. If one orders the cheesecake at Pizza Express, for example, the server asks "Cream, ice cream or mascarpone?" Do you want a little cheese with your cheesecake?

    Chantilly (a kind of sweetened/flavo(u)red whipped cream) is a word I've never experienced in the US, although you can find it in US cookbooks. I probably never heard it there just because we don't eat so much cream.

    What is very popular in the US and not so much here are flavo(u)red creamers (i.e. mostly non-dairy concoctions) for coffee. I attribute this at least in part to the fact that most British supermarkets just don't have the shelf space to dedicate to the range of unnecessary stuff that warehouse-like US supermarkets can fit in. The ironically named Marion Nestle is an interesting read on the politics of the supermarket shelf.

  3. That's one of the items that struck me as incredibly interesting when I first started spending a lot of time in Britain -- all those types of cream!

    I may have missed it in your post -- I blame the jetlag -- but don't the British refer to "soured cream", while we Americans call it "sour cream"?


  4. You see soured cream more often in the UK than in the US, but it's at least as common to call it sour cream. In fact, there are 31,000 hits for soured cream and 237,000 for sour cream. Recipes on use either/or. Sour cream but not soured cream is in the New Oxford Dictionary of English.

    Essentially, it's like hashed brown potatoes, iced cream and more recently iced tea/coffee, which all started out with participial (i.e. verb-derived) adjectives at the front, but later lost (or are losing, in the case of ice(d) tea/coffee) their 'd's on both sides of the Atlantic.

  5. I've often wondered when reading US books, do Americans always have cream in their coffee rather than milk? Or is this cream different from what would be called cream in the UK? Is it just the top of the milk?

  6. I think it's rather old-fashioned to have real cream in one's coffee (which would be the light cream), and I also think that people use the term cream rather loosely when it comes to coffee. Very often, they'll be having creamer in their coffee--i.e. that artificial stuff made from palm oil. (Much more popular in the US than the UK. Nowadays, creamers with flavo(u)rs, like vanilla or hazelnut, are particularly popular. I say 'eurgh'.)

    Americans also have half-and-half in their coffee--which is cream mixed with milk. (And, of course, Americans like me just drink their coffee with milk.) But some may loosely refer to that as coffee with cream.

  7. I always feel slightly (and clearly completely irrationally) aggrieved in the US when I get given a slice of cake or something and it is all naked with no whipped cream. But then again, I will also be offered cream with my coffee and that sounds unpleasant, although perhaps I have been misunderstanding what the substance I am being offered is exactly. I must admit I hadn't realized the range of varieties of "cream" in the US or the UK until I read this post. I do like the US milk naming system that just labels every variety with the fat percentage- very clear!

    I also have to be careful not to request "white" coffee, meaning coffee with milk (in contrast to black coffee, which I think does make sense in the US).

    I also feel like the coffee here has less caffeine, but have yet to find out if that is the case or if I am just manufacturing an excuse for being grumpy.

  8. In my parents' house, growing up, if we put anything in our coffee (or tea!) it was cream or sometimes half-and-half, never milk. I think this behavio(u)r leads to the confusion a lot of Americans experience when they hear reference to a 'cream tea,' which does not mean 'tea with cream in (it),' which would never happen in the UK (right?).

    A free tip: don't serve Yorkshire pudding for pudding!

  9. I wish I'd read this blog before we went to the US last Jan. We found the whole Supermarket experience so confusing. Especially the cream. It took me a good 20 minutes to find the type of cream I wanted to make a cabonara sauce and that was WITH the help of a sales assistant.

  10. When I used to order spaghetti carbonara at an Italian restaurant in Johannesburg, the (Italian) owner would ask me "the English way or the Italian way?" The English way has cream, the Italian way doesn't. More evidence that English are obsessed with cream (even if they don't put it in their coffee).

    I've had it both ways in the US. My Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook recipe is cream-less and I love it. Unfortunately, I never get to make it any more because of Better Half's disappointingly strict vegetarianism.

  11. My carbonara recipe is a Jamie Oliver cheat's version, so obviously a British one. Must try the italian version - will save me 20 mins at the store next time I'm in the US!

  12. For what it's worth, I'm an American and I refer to a basket of berries as a punnet. It was a fairly common word in New England dialect of my 1960's childhood.

  13. Replying rather late to say, I can easily get gooseberries (both green and reddish, if there's a difference) at our local farmer's markets here in Chicago.

    I don't know if farmer's markets are different here and elsewhere; I'm told in New York they're usually indoor sort of mall things, but here it's a parking lot that one morning per week has farmers drive in from the surrounding agricultural areas (some as far as middle-Michigan -- a 6-hour drive!) to set up individual canopies and tables, with their produce set out in baskets and boxes (and punnets, sometimes) with hand-written prices on in marker.

  14. In some places in the U.S., one is offered "regular coffee," which contains milk. (I don't think they have the temerity to add sugar.) It took me a while to learn to answer, "No, black please."

  15. Half and half for coffee is one of the things I miss most now that I live in the UK (and I was quite fond of the fat free Land 'O' Lakes sort, which is really some sort of thickened skim milk). Putting skim milk directly in coffee doesn't even change its consistency much and certainly doesn't change its color much. I miss the mouth-feel of the American sort of dairy thickened coffee milk stuff (and not the "non-dairy creamer" sort).

  16. And here I thought "punnet" was a clever -- and, now that I think about it, self-referential -- neologism for a small pun.

  17. I'm British and I rarely use cream on desserts except in the soft fruit season. When I occasionally make a hot pudding I have it with custard (from custard powder), or maybe ice cream or plain yoghurt. I can never see the point of pouring cream over an already creamy dessert, as you're often invited to do in restaurants.
    Kate (Derby, UK)

  18. Ugh. Custard from powder is _nasty_!

    1. It’s delicious as is custard made with eggs and cream. Both are good Like tinned and fresh salmon or tinned and fresh pineapple. ☺️

  19. @Joel Yorkshire pudding for pudding isn't bad, actually. They're essentially made of pancake batter anyway, so put some fruit and whipped cream in a cold one and it's a bit like a large profiterole.

    I have a vague feeling that it might once have been traditional to serve leftover Yorkshires for dessert, but I may have imagined this / my father lied in order to get rid of leftovers.

  20. In the midwest USA regular coffee does not mean with milk or cream or anythin in it, it just means that it is not de-caf

  21. No, you didn't imagine it, Johnny E. I remember my Yorkshire-born Mum saying that Yorkshire pudding could also be served as a dessert, though she never did so.

    PS I'm the Kate who posted above. I don't find custard-powder custard nasty, having been brought up on it, but I don't love it as much as some Brits do.

  22. I can confirm the last post and even offer another course. It was not uncommon in Yorkshire (in the 60's) to have a Yorkshire pudding as a starter with gravy (onion of course) followed by YP with the meat course and finish any left over 'pud' with treacle. LUVERLY!

  23. I am going to be making a cake this weekend, but the recipe I am following is American and I live in the (currently) sunny UK and was about to get double cream for heavy cream. You saved my cake so thank you 😊.

  24. I bought something labeled fresh cream and just assumed it was single cream. Hope I'm right

  25. BrE. I find it interesting that the term “white coffee” isn’t use in the US. With the growth of coffe shop chains in the U.K., we are now offered a wide choice of options (latte, skinny latte, mocha etc.). It often feels as if you are expected to be born what all these new choices mean. I have never seen a few words of explanation, and the serving staff can be really condescending. Lots of eye-rolling, and sotto voce exchanges: “he doesn’t know what a skinny latte is”. To get an unadorned coffee, I’ve learned to ask for an Americano. Actually, I usually ask for a black Americano, and invariably get asked if I want milk with it. ‘Nuff said.

  26. You wouldn’t eat a sloe though. You’d put some straight off the bush, with sugar in a bottle of gin to make a delicious liqueur. ☺️


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)