JACKI LYDEN, host:
As the days get brighter and the nights get shorter, a young cook's fancy turns lightly to thoughts of what's coming up in the garden, rhubarb.
Ms. NANCY BAGGETT (Cookbook Author): We're going to talk about rhubarb, and I always feel like the first batch I see, spring has finally come.
LYDEN: We're back in Nancy Baggett's kitchen on a lovely spring evening. Last time I was out here, we baked no-knead bread, but today's project is even simpler.
Ms. BAGGETT: We're going to make a fool.
LYDEN: A fool.
Ms. BAGGETT: Sort of like a trifle.
LYDEN: All right, great. I just want to say I hadn't realized that rhubarb was a spring vegetable, even though I remember picking it as a kid.
Ms. BAGGETT: It is spring, and in fact, it is a perennial. So the story goes in the 18th and 19th century, people were particularly happy to have it because it was one of the first things that came up in the garden.
LYDEN: And you have a lovely, lovely tray full of the stuff.
Ms. BAGGETT: It is. I have it in my yard, but it's not ready yet. So I had to buy what I could, and one of the things to keep in mind is when you get it out of your yard, it has huge, ruffled leaves. Usually they take them off when you buy them. They're already trimmed off. If not, just whack them right off and throw the leaves away. They have a lot of oxalic acid, and that means that they're not edible.
LYDEN: Oh, okay.
Ms. BAGGETT: Only the stalks are.
LYDEN: All right. Right.
Ms. BAGGETT: Okay.
Ms. BAGGETT: Shall we go ahead and get started on the fool?
LYDEN: Yes, yes, I'd love to.
Ms. BAGGETT: We've already rinsed them off. So we're just going to slit them lengthwise, and we'll need about three cups. And I should mention I'm just cutting them into maybe half-inch pieces going crosswise, and you're just going to stew it. And depending on the freshness of the rhubarb and the variety of rhubarb, it may take three or four minutes. You basically want a kind of a thick applesauce consistency. That's all we're looking for.
LYDEN: The stewing rhubarb reminds me of my grandmother, who made a similar concoction for us kids to pour over ice cream. But my grandmother never added strawberries. Nancy dumped a basket of berries into her food processor and chopped them coarsely.
Ms. BAGGETT: Okay. All we're going to do at this point is fold the coarsely pureed strawberries right into the cooled rhubarb.
LYDEN: The rhubarb and the strawberries will get whisked together with whipped cream and just a touch of vanilla yogurt to make the fool.
Ms. BAGGETT: Some experts think that the word fool, which is essentially just a puree of fruit and a whipped cream mixture, comes from the French verb fouler, which means to crush or press.
Ms. BAGGETT: But in not all cases is the mixture crushed or pressed. And so, I actually like the Oxford English Dictionary, which says, well, they're both old-fashioned desserts, and they actually date back to the 1500s and that the name trifle and fool are probably are both a bit of foolishness. And as you can see, it's nice and fluffy and foamy here.
LYDEN: Well, I always thought - I remember my first English trifle when I was a student back in the day, I was at Cambridge University, and I always thought that maybe somebody had dropped a pie - and I mean this is just complete whimsy - and stuck it back together with pudding and jam, and there you had your trifle.
Ms. BAGGETT: That - well, the real difference, and it's interesting, in the early literature, there's not much distinction made between whether it was a fool or whether it was a trifle. And if we had a trifle, according to modern definition, it would have to have pieces of cake.
LYDEN: Absolutely. Yellow cake.
Ms. BAGGETT: Yes, yellow cake.
LYDEN: Yellow cake.
Ms. BAGGETT: Maybe a pound cake or a sponge cake, but a yellow cake, if we were doing a tipsy parson.
LYDEN: A tipsy parson.
Ms. BAGGETT: A tipsy parson. That actually came on the scene a little later.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. BAGGETT: And we don't know who the tipsy parson was. We can only speculate that - it, by the way, always has a lot of either sack or sherry or wine or maybe a liquor lacing the cake.
LYDEN: Okay, or rum.
Ms. BAGGETT: And so maybe if it were served at Sunday dinner when the parson came, and he ate too much of it, he would become tipsy. So I'm just going to spoon some of the strawberries, because you like that multi-colored kind of effect.
LYDEN: It's so pretty and so simple.
Ms. BAGGETT: And we need to have you try it.
LYDEN: Ah, the best, the best.
Ms. BAGGETT: Oh, hopefully.
LYDEN: This very one. All right. Well, will you have some with me?
Ms. BAGGETT: I will.
LYDEN: We can be two girls eating a sundae.
Ms. BAGGETT: Absolutely. Light.
LYDEN: It's light.
Ms. BAGGETT: Not too sweet.
Ms. BAGGETT: And doesn't that say spring in every bite?
LYDEN: It really does.
Well, guess who I'm having over for dinner Monday night?
Ms. BAGGETT: I have no idea.
LYDEN: NPR's Sylvia Paggioli.
Ms. BAGGETT: Oh, okay.
LYDEN: And guess what she and her husband are getting?
Ms. BAGGETT: They're going to have strawberry rhubarb fool
LYDEN: Strawberry rhubarb fool in my back garden.
Nancy Baggett, thank you so much for having us out here tonight.
Ms. BAGGETT: You are welcome.
LYDEN: If you want to serve rhubarb and strawberry fools at your next garden party or any party, you can find Nancy Baggett's recipe on our Web site, npr.org.
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