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A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat

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A  New York Times  Best Illustrated Book

From highly acclaimed author Jenkins and Caldecott Medal–winning illustrator Blackall comes a fascinating picture book in which four families, in four different cities, over four centuries, make the same delicious blackberry fool. This richly detailed book ingeniously shows how food, technology, and even families have changed throughout American history.

In 1710, a girl and her mother in Lyme, England, prepare a blackberry fool, picking wild blackberries and beating cream from their cow with a bundle of twigs. The same dessert is prepared by an enslaved girl and her mother in 1810 in Charleston, South Carolina; by a mother and daughter in 1910 in Boston; and finally by a boy and his father in present-day San Diego.

Kids and parents alike will delight in discovering the differences in daily life over the course of four centuries.

Includes a recipe for blackberry fool and notes from the author and illustrator about their research.

44 pages, Library Binding

First published January 27, 2015

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About the author

Emily Jenkins

85 books152 followers
Emily Jenkins is the author of many books for children, including the recent picture books Tiger and Badger, illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay, and Princessland, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka. Her chapter books include the Toys series, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky; she is co-author of the Upside-down Magic series. Emily Jenkins lives in New York City.

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Profile Image for Jessica.
738 reviews73 followers
November 7, 2015
I went and tracked down this book because all the award talk and crazy twitter rants going on about this book.


I just sighed and said before I go on Twitter warfare let me read the book.


After reading it, I definitely went DARNIT! I'm going to be a buzzkill. I read the blog post of the illustrator, the comments, posts, and reviews of the pros and cons---and decided, I will happily be a buzzkill.

I've talked to co-workers about the book itself and their opinion---you could easily gloss over it and say, you know, there are positive moments featured in this book. The acknowledgement of slavery was presented and they didn't overlook that point---and there's AN AWESOME author's note explaining the choices they made in including that material. There's a featured biracial couple at the end WHOOP TO RACE RELATIONS-----and there are all these different families portrayed throughout the book. Yet, the featured family of color making the recipe---SLAVES. Here's why I have a problem with a whimsical portrait of slavery (even if the oppressed find joy in their oppression):


Slaves were considered property. I'm not talking about the property that most women living in America (who weren't of color faced) the issues of not being allowed to go to schools, vote, or being married off to husbands. Slaves had no legal rights. We were told we were only 3/5ths of a person and had no souls. I know that is hard to compact all that in an "age-appropriate book" but WHY COULDN'T IT HAVE BEEN A CIVIL RIGHTS FAMILY? <----Ya'll I'm playing, but seriously, where there no freed slaves (or free black people) that would have made this dessert? Maybe a little less light-hearted on the picking blackberries aspect. I’m just throwing out ideas.

Let's get back on track. I am trying to constructively channel my black rage. I'm going to talk about how my own African-American experience that is shaping me in reading this book. I love to bake, all my aunts ARE AMAZING bakers----who mind you---are from the south. The deep backwaters of Mississippi. Do you know how they learned to bake so well? As my aunt would "kindly" say,

We cooked for white people

My mom was born in 1949 and my dad was born in 1946. Their respective families participated in the phenomenon known as the Great Migration, which they hesitate to talk about. My parents had my brother and I at a late age and it was interesting growing up with all this history around you (which you didn’t fully comprehend at the time) only everyone being really reluctant to “reminisce.”

Even before their Great Migration----I have an awesome scholarly extended family who did research for family reunions to make sure we knew our roots. They wanted everyone to be proud of their legacy, that we were descendants of slaves. I'll just focus on my dad's side and be succinct about the extensive genealogy of my family: Four great grandmothers ago, Pennie was taken from an Igbo tribe in Nigeria and sent to England where she was sold to the Liddell Plantation in the South. Anyway, from there she had three kids by the master's son of the plantation and---I'm just going to leave the story right there. Let me fast forward to my great-grandfather (from this same side) being the only black man in his county (at that time) to own his farm land and his children (my grandfather) migrating to the North for the promise of more opportunities that would allow his children to pursue happiness.

I am one of those promises. I'm also telling you that books portraying "happy" slavery makes me want to scream. My parents at an early age taught me that there are "two" sides of history and school was NOT going to teach me correctly. Summers were spent reading books my parents hand selected that had "accurate portrayals" about "my" history that they felt were definitely not romanticized portrayals of history.

My parents did not water down the hard realities of slavery and the effects that are being felt to this day. My parents will say that they are now "use to living in the North" and love it and couldn't imagine living anywhere else----but again, my father will say, if they 'could' have stayed in the South they probably would have.

A mother daughter moment of plantation life? Where love conquerors all?

My mom has done an AMAZING job in passing down recipes collected through her family and I'll tell you----the stories I grew up with, the stories that my aunts told me of the reason why their pies, cakes, and cookies were filled with deliciousness. It wasn't steeped in love. It was steeped in work. Hard work. They were taught that this hard work that passed through the generations was for survival and the only station they were allowed to reach at the time. The generations before them did back breaking work on a plantation, and now as freed slaves (and their descendants) they did sharecropping work (or as for my mom's sisters---house work), and even after managing to get "ahead" at the time was through these skills that that had been passed down to their families after slavery until they left for the North. My mom was the first college graduate of her family.

I had many verbal fights with kids in college about romanticizing history. I was a minority at a private school and an overwhelmingly minority in graduate school (at least in my field). I had someone present a book that "glossed" over the atrocities of slavery. I was incensed and made people feel very uncomfortable as I tried to articulate my thoughts and feelings surrounding the portrayal of slavery in that book.

Do you realize that books with this flippant material foster these statements and conversations from adults/kids---which have been my experiences growing up. "Slavery wasn't that bad." " You know, blacks should have done something about it if they didn't like it. Oh, here's a favorite of mine: "You wouldn't have waited until there was a war. You would have fought for your freedoms----you know like other cultures."

I know it’s a hard conversation to be had and it’s like good job in acknowledging that this dessert was made in slavery. Could you portray African-American generational mother-daughter bonding time in making this dessert through the generations/centuries by serving white people a dessert? Sure. Could you then portray that injustice by hiding and licking the bowl clean together. Yes, you can. Yet, I am begging the question----Should you? If you can only paint a little of the HUGE portrait (of slavery)----should you attempt to do so? What would have happened if they did get caught?

I mean, the comedian Louis CK is right, : black people cannot go back in time. If I went back in time with my future child or explore sections of my portrayed history, I am showing to them that after making the dessert, we get to hide and lick the bowl. Awww, isn't that sweet.

I'm okay with my unpopular opinion and for everyone who loves this book, I'll just smile and plug my ears.


Update. I will no longer take a vow to never read a E.Lockhart/Emily Jenkins book. (Sidenote: I did love me some We Were Liars). I was happy to hear this:


Profile Image for Manybooks.
3,124 reviews104 followers
July 1, 2022
If it had not been for the specific and at times rather virulent controversies surrounding this book (especially with regard to the illustrations accompanying the plantation scene), I would probably not have read Emily Jenkins' and Sophie Blackall's (author and illustrator respectively) A Fine Dessert all that critically. However, the controversy mentioned above has made me approach it with a much more analytical mindset than I probably would with most picture books and as a result, I have found a number of for me somewhat potentially problematic issues, and not just with regard to the 1810 plantation sequence, but with the other three family depictions as well. Now the general concept of A Fine Dessert is interesting and informative, and I do love how author Emily Jenkins goes about demonstrating the changes in technology (from 15 minutes to whip the cream to using an electric egg beater that makes whipped cream in less than two minutes, from milking one's own cow, to buying dairy products at the local supermarket, not to mention how much more difficult it used to be to keep food fresh and cold). And as to the text itself, I have to admit that the repeated mantras of "beat, beat, beat, beat" and "Mmmmm. Mmmmm. Mmmmm. What a fine dessert!" do tend to become a bit distracting and monotonous, but then again, I am not the intended audience here (and children might well find this fun and engaging). But I do consider it somewhat ambiguous and confusing that with A Fine Dessert, there is presented one family in Britain, and then four in the United States. And I do think it would show a better sense of time and place if the author and illustrator were to use either one particular family (and you could even have the family begin in England and then immigrate to the United States) or one specific location with four separate families. I guess Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall are trying to show that the recipe, the end result, remains the same, regardless of different families, different centuries, different technologies, different countries (well, two countries), but personally, I would appreciate more of a sense of continuity.

Now on to the four families of A Fine Dessert, from four different centuries, all making the same dessert. And with the 1710 British scene, I am indeed a bit left to wonder whether the baby should necessarily be depicted as being in the dining room with the family (as especially younger children would generally be residing in the nursery, especially during mealtimes). And if, as mentioned in the illustrator's note, the family is considered to be moderately wealthy, they would most likely have a maid (probably not a whole staff of domestic servants like the landed gentry, but certainly a maid, perhaps even a scullery maid, and thus, the mother as a moderately wealthy housewife would probably have her maid beat the cream, as that would be the hardest and most time consuming task). And please do note that this is not really a criticism on my part, as I am just speculating a bit here.

Now do I think that some of the vehemence and controversy with regard to the 1810 USA plantation scene of A Fine Dessert are a bit over the top and exaggerated? Yes I do, but be that as it may, there are in my opinion legitimate and rather heavy and problematic issues and concerns with especially Sophie Blackall's illustrations. Yes, there really is not ever enough space or scope within the restricting confines of the picture book format to even remotely show and consider the many nuances of slavery (both from a textual and an illustrative point of view). However, if the little girl is so broadly smiling in the one illustration (and actually, she is smiling in quite a number of the scenes), why do she and the mother then have to hide in the closet to lick the bowls clean? If the house slaves have to hide away for that, then the slave owner (the master) is obviously so cruel and dictating that he even begrudges them the scraps from his family's table, which would mean that a smiling slave would be rather if not highly unlikely. And even if it were the mistress and not the master who begrudges their slaves the very scraps from the table, that would not really change all that much, as master and mistress are basically a team so to speak. And while I do not necessarily think that the plantation scene should not be included in A Fine Dessert, as slavery is an unfortunately true part of American history, I do think that the whole sequence and especially the illustrations are rather or potentially misleading, ambiguous, and in many ways, just wrong. And sorry, especially the "Mmmmm. Mmmmm. Mmmmm. What a fine dessert!" refrain is especially and personally grating here, because while the dessert might indeed be fine, slavery is NOT fine, and that repeated rather childish mantra quite massively and annoyingly trivialises this fact (well, at least I find this to be the case).

And yes, I also have to question the family purchasing milk at the local dairy in the plantation sequence. For while I am not claiming that in 1810, dairies did not exist, since a plantation is of course akin to a farm, I would think that most plantation owners would have cattle, horses, chickens, and then of course, also unfortnately but realstically, the slaves to take care of them, to feed the livestock, milk the cows, gather the eggs.

To continue, in the 1910 and 2010 scenes of A Fine Dessert, the required blackberries are no longer being picked, being gathered by the individuals making the dessert, but are purchased (at the market in 1910 and at the supermarket in 2010), certainly no longer as much prickly work as having to gather them oneself. However, the blackberries would of course still need to be gathered by someone (either by the growers or by their hired hands, and perhaps even migrant farm labourers), and with that salient fact in mind, this really should be acknowledged in A Fine Dessert (perhaps in the author's and illustrator's notes, as it is probably beyond the scope of the text itself). Now I do appreciate the more relaxed atmosphere at the table in the 1910 sequence (for if one compares it to the 1710 scene, where both mother and daughter are constantly serving food, in the 1910 sequence, the entire family is seated at the table, and father, mother, daughter, brothers, they are all enjoying their dessert).

And finally, while I can and do appreciate the multi-ethnic feel of the last, of the 2010 sequence of A Fine Dessert (and like the fact that here we finally have a man cooking, with his son helping), I do have to wonder a bit if this scene might not be a bit too message-heavy and specifically placed and used to somewhat soften potential criticism of the 1810 plantation scene (for while it is sweet and inclusive, it also feels tacked on, and a bit too obviously politically correct).

Now even with my criticisms, I do still think that A Fine Dessert has much to teach and much of interest to teach, especially with regard to food preparation, women's work and the like (and yes, the author's and illustrator's notes are informative and the fact that sources are listed is an added bonus). However, I also strongly believe that the entire plantation sequence should be either removed or at least changed/altered (as especially the illustrations are potentially misleading). And while I am glad that there have been apologies posted, these apologies would mean oh so much more if Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall were to actually put their proverbial money where their mouths are so yo speak and reissue A Fine Dessert with appropriate pictorial changes for the plantation scene (or at least, with some added explanatory footnotes or endnotes).
Profile Image for Carmen.
2,056 reviews1,858 followers
August 29, 2015
I looked at this book and thought, "Oh, this is going to be boring."

Big mistake. Actually, this was an amazing book.

It's about four different families in four different centuries making blackberry fool.

FIRST, we have a white family in 1710 England. A mother, a little girl, and a baby, picking blackberries for blackberry fool.

SECOND, we have a black mother and daughter in 1810 Charleston, picking blackberries for blackberry fool on their master's plantation.

THIRD, we have a white mother, little girl and baby buying blackberries at a market in Boston, 1910.

LASTLY, we have a white father and little boy buying blackberries and (pasteurized organic) cream at the grocery store in San Diego, 2010.

There are three things kids are going to get out of this books. Well, four.

1.) A recipe for blackberry fool. After reading and seeing the characters making and eating blackberry fool over and over again in the text, both you and the children are going to be craving blackberry fool. I highly suggest reading this in the late summer and having the ingredients on hand. The recipe is conveniently located in the back.

2.) Changing food technology and convenience. When the author tells us the story of the four families making blackberry fool, children will notice how technology changes.

For instance, the first family picks the blackberries. Then the girl milks their own cow for cream. Beating the whipped cream takes 15 minutes and is done by hand. The little girl draws water from the well, strains the blackberries through muslin, and puts the mixture on an ice pit on the hillside. It's a lot of work.

The second family picks blackberries from the plantation garden. Cream is delivered from a dairy by horse-drawn wagon. Ten minutes is how long it takes to whip the cream - thanks to a metal whisk made by the local blacksmith (compared to the twig bundle Girl #1 had to use). The little girl pulls water from the well, uses a tin sieve, and stores the fool in an icebox in the basement.

The third family buys their blackberries in an outdoor market. Cream is delivered to their door every morning. It takes the mom five minutes to whip the cream because she has a hand-crank beater. The little girl gets water from the faucet, not a well. They store the fool in a wooden icebox.

The last family buys both the blackberries and cream from their local grocery store. When they get home, the father prints out an Internet recipe for blackberry fool. The little boy whips cream in only two minutes, using an electric mixer.

It reminded the boy of shaving foam.

The father uses a food processor on the berries. This must be a rich family. I'm still using a handheld non-electric mixer and I don't own a food processor. Then they store the fool in the fridge.

You can also see what the family eats for dinner is changing. The first family has cold chicken, mushroom ketchup and meat pie.

The second family isn't shown having dinner, only the master and his family is shown having dinner: turtle soup, roast turkey, corn cakes, and sweet potatoes.

The third family has potato soup, roast chicken and canned asparagus on toast.

The fourth family has a dinner that is not described at all. :(

Another thing that children might notice is gender roles.

It's not until the last family that we see any males in the kitchen. And in the first family, the females aren't seated at the table, they are standing constantly, serving the menfolk. Actually, this book is inaccurate because it features children seated at the table, and Puritans did not allow children to sit down during meals, they had to eat standing up. Only adults had the right to sit down and eat.

The modern family not only shows men cooking and doing kitchen work, but also shows a man holding a baby, a noticeable difference from the previous sections.

You can choose to bring up gender roles or not. Your child might comment on them, ask a question - or not. It's completely up to you, as the adult reader, to take this where you want it to go or just leave it lie.

The last thing that children might get out of this book is a lesson on race and race relations. Even though this book doesn't discuss race or slavery, it very clearly shows slavery in its illustrations and what's happening. The black family is a family of slaves and is shown serving the white family dinner - they are not shown eating dinner themselves, and the black mother and daughter are later shown shutting themselves in a closet to hide while they lick the bowl - something that all the other families are free to do with no second thoughts.

It's obvious that while the author isn't making this book About Slavery with A Message, neither is she shying away from honestly showing how things really were. (Well, not exactly how they really were, obviously a field slave would pick the blackberries, someone in the kitchen would cook them, and a house slave would serve them - but I understand the author wanting to follow one family).

Again, like the 'gender role' thing, you can go here or not. You can discuss it with your child, you can see if your child mentions it or asks about it, or you can just let it lie. It's up to you as the adult reader. I'm not going to tell anyone how to parent (or uncle or aunt or whatever). I really like how the author clearly and distinctly shows slavery, but doesn't make that a theme or message in the book.

The author makes the last family consist of a father and son who are white. However, the final dinner has all their friends coming over, and their friends include an interracial couple (black woman, white man, two children) an Asian woman (coupled with a white man) and a possible interracial lesbian couple - although that might be wishful thinking on my part, the picture only shows an Asian woman and a redheaded woman seated together, one of them holding a baby. But who knows? Again, probably wishful thinking on my part.

I'm rather miffed that the author chose the last family to be white. I was hoping perhaps Vietnamese or Puerto Rican or something - but no luck. However, I feel like the way race is dealt with overall is good and educational for children.

Tl;dr - This is a surprising powerhouse of a book. I'm glad I didn't judge it by it's cover. Any book that ends with you and the child(ren) in the kitchen making yummy food is a book I can get behind. And I love how the book offers you tons of talking points with the children - but leaves it up to you to address how or if they are going to be discussed. I know some parents shy away from talking about race and gender at a young age. The book leaves this opportunity in your hands - take it or leave it. Fascinating, with wonderful pictures AND a yummy treat - this book is a winner.

Not available in Spanish.
Profile Image for Erica.
1,331 reviews435 followers
February 3, 2015
It's just blackberries, sugar, and whipped cream.
How can there be a whole book about it?

Well, the book isn't quite about the dessert. I mean, it is, of course, but it's also about how this particular treat has endured through time (from 1710 to 2010) and across two countries (England and the U.S.) and about how, traditionally, this was a mother/daughter undertaking (though, now, fathers and sons can make it, too), and the importance of savoring the sweetness of something you worked to make, the enjoyment of good food, and about licking the bowl afterward.

I love stories like this. Added bonus: the illustrations remind me vaguely of Barbara Cooney's work with the little details and the muted colors and the fine lines.

I've never had blackberry fool but the recipe's at the end of the story so maybe I'll whip up a batch when blackberry season rolls around.
Profile Image for Debbie.
Author 1 book520 followers
November 5, 2015
When I first read this book, I knew the depiction of slavery was not ok. Since then, I've read many responses to it, from African Americans, that get at what is wrong with it. In particular is one comment from an African American mom who said that when she looks at the page, she thinks of what that mom is doing... getting her daughter ready for a life of slavery. Most of the people who like the book are liking it without the stories of ancestors and what they went through...

A Fine Dessert is not ok.
Profile Image for Darla.
3,348 reviews527 followers
December 11, 2020
How many of us have family recipes that have endured through generations? No doubt, many of them are on display during holiday dinners and family get togethers. Have you ever thought about how preparation methods, kitchen appliances, and family dynamics have changed over the many years that these recipes have been in your family. Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall have taken one recipe -- Blackberry Fool -- and told us a story that is for all of us, not just children. The books begins in 1710 and ends in 2010, covering three centuries. Many things change in that time. Utensils and other advances shorten the prep time. Whipping cream in 1710 took about 15 minutes using a handful of clean twigs. Modern cooks can have it done in just two minutes. Gender roles have changed throughout that time as has the combinations of people around the table. What other changes can you see as you read the book together? What hasn't changed, though, is the pleasure we take in licking the spoon and cleaning out that bowl at the end of the meal. Yum! Be sure to read the enlightening notes from the author and illustrator at the end of the book. Highly recommended. * Reviewed by Darla from Red Bridge *

Profile Image for Raina.
1,596 reviews125 followers
November 25, 2015
What a cool way to talk about history with kids. The same dessert is prepared four times, in four different centuries, in four different places. Roughly the same process is used, but other aspects change.

Many of the differences are subtle. In the first, a mother and daughter prepare it and serve it to the males in the family before they eat themselves. At the end, the parent/child combination print a recipe off the internet (it's 2010, not 2015 - now, I think we'd just prop up a tablet or phone...).

Anyway, such a cool conversation piece you could explore over and over again in a homeschool/home setting - pointing out different things to focus on as the kids get old enough to grasp the larger issues.

Also, it's making me hungry. ;)


Edit 11/25/2015:
This book's title is now shorthand for whitewashing history.
When I read this book, I did notice the way it portrayed slavery and considered this one of the things families would talk about as they delved deeper into the midrash of the text. I see this as a book best read with care.
Profile Image for Missy.
315 reviews7 followers
September 3, 2020
I've thought and thought about this book, especially what rating to give it. I've taken the easy way out by not rating the book. As most who read children's literature professionally know by now, A Fine Dessert has received critical praise; it's one of the New York Times best picture books for 2015.

However, the book has also received a great deal of criticism, mostly academic and grassroots, for the depiction of an enslaved slave mother and daughter in this historical look at cooking and family over the centuries. Rather than recount the objections, I would point you to an excellent and engaging Goodreads review by Jessica (no last name given) from Michigan. Additionally, Dr. Debbie Reese, a scholar of children's literature, has provided a comprehensive overview of the discussion about the book.

My struggle with this book has been how to acknowledge the great care and good intentions that went into the creation of the book. The author, Emily Jenkins, offers a note in the back that immediately addresses the issue of including a slave family. Her desire was to depict this terrible aspect of our history, not ignore it. However, the story ends up "whitewashing" slavery, which is really worse, and for which the author has since issued a public apology.

I thought about this issue of intention; don't her good intentions count for something? I leave the answer to that question to others who have thought much longer and harder about this issue than I have. Dr Reese, in a recent item about depictions of Native Americans in children's literature, wrote: "intentions don't matter. The content of a book and what it tells children is what matters most of all." I have to agree that what children are taught explicitly and implicitly about themselves and the world around them trumps all.

My heart breaks a bit for Ms. Jenkins and the illustrator, Sophie Blackall, for having created something with the best of intentions that ultimately was hurtful to those they might have hoped to uplift and acknowledge. On the other hand, I rejoice at the serious attention given to the issues of children's literature and accurate representation of various peoples as a result.
Profile Image for Susan.
104 reviews7 followers
November 6, 2019
This book is a perfect example of "Diversity" gone wrong. Social history? Fresh fruit? Whipped cream? Sugar? Vanilla? Lovely illustrations? What's not to like? The fact that the author, probably in an attempt to condemn racism, has inadvertently allowed very subtle racism to creep into the story, so subtle that it may escape the notice of many. My objections may differ slightly from those of leading critics, but I agree with the friend who rated it less than okay.

Does it not strike people as odd that all these children and their parents are preparing this Blackberry Fool recipe for their own families' consumption, but not the 1810 girl? How is this child different from all the other children in the book?

This could have been a wonderful story. I didn't know anything about it until I read about the controversy. I thought perhaps people were unfairly blaming Emily Jenkins for the illustrator's choices, but when I read it, I realized that the author was the one responsible for the choice to write about slavery.

I didn't think the author's treatment of slavery was necessarily a whitewash (she obviously disapproves of the "peculiar institution") but I simply hate the way some people seem to believe stories about African Americans must be stories about slavery. It's as if people couldn't write a story about Jews unless the plot revolved around the Holocaust, or they couldn't write about indigenous Americans unless the plot revolved around Wounded Knee or the Trail of Tears or smallpox. While it's true that slavery existed for the first four score and nine years of the U.S.A.'s existence, it was abolished more than a century and a half ago. In other words, the U.S.A. has existed almost twice as long without slavery as it did with it, and we shouldn't neglect that period of African American history after 1865.

Emily Jenkins has explained that she didn't want to "ignore that part of history." Yet, for some reason, she seemed perfectly wiling to "ignore" the Pythagorean Theorem. Why is that, anyway? Might it be because she imagines she's teaching secondary school here? What must be covered in a one year U.S. history survey class required for high school graduation need not necessarily be covered in a 32-page picture book about after-dinner treats.

Aside from the problem of how this book may affect children of color and their sense of themselves, how are we teaching children who don't know any African Americans to think of them? What are we telling a white kindergartener to think of her classmates? When she looks at Marcus, should she concern herself with the fact that his ancestors were enslaved, or that he can count to a hundred and he shares his crayons? If we teach a child that this one classmate's ancestors survived the plantation, must we not also teach that Caitlyn's ancestors survived the potato famine, and Ruthie's ancestors survived the pogroms, and Xiong's ancestors survived the bombing of their country? What is the point of singling out one group of Americans as objects of our pity? Instead of teaching children to look at them as people whose ancestors were victims of terrible cruelty and injustice, how about teaching children to look at them as . . . well, people?

I found the ending to be cheesy and contrived. I would ask the author what her point was in writing this book. Was it to inform children that back in the Bad Old Days people suffered from horrible racism and injustice, but now we're just an idyllic multiracial communal society where everyone gets along famously with everyone else (because racism ceased to be a problem with the passage of the 13th Amendment, maybe)? Or was it, as I suspect, to show how technology has changed, even as families have enjoyed preparing and eating the same dessert dish? She could have accomplished the latter better and taken it even farther if she had changed the families and their locations.

Instead of going from England to South Carolina and then back up to Boston and then out to California, she could have followed a more or less straight trajectory and focused on a farm family in New England or elsewhere in the Northeast or original thirteen colonies for 1810. Then for 1910, she could have focused on an African American family in Kansas City or New Orleans (or Chicago) or some other place in the Louisiana Purchase or Midwest, (but really, the Louisiana Purchase lends itself so well to the theme of westward expansion). Then a 2010 California boy and his father could still be the fourth family. I like the way these two main characters and their house looked vaguely Hispanic (and not Asian, because that would have fed into the stereotype of Asians having superior skills with computers).

While it was noble of the author to apologize, I would like to see her revise the book for the second edition and consider these changes.
Profile Image for reading is my hustle.
1,482 reviews291 followers
February 27, 2015
One recipe is made during four different centuries and though the recipe stays the same the times do not. Clever way to teach history, that.

The illustrations are gorgeous.
Delicious even.
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
November 5, 2015
The whole family will read all these Goodreads Children's Illustrated book nominees for 2015 and rate all of them.

This is a great book about eating blackberry fool in four different centuries: 1710, 1810, 1910, and 2010. It is simply told and reflects deep research on food and kitchens and clothes and customs across history. The artwork is elegant and the different ways whipped cream has been made over the ages, that's just interesting, and was interesting to the whole family. The endpapers are colored from actual squished blackberries (and copied, okay).

I was surprised that my family liked it as much as I did. It is basically historical fiction, and cultural history. I really liked it a lot and will make the recipe they include. I liked the author's and illustrator's endnotes that made us appreciate all the work put into it.

Just before posting this I notice that there was a twitterfire about the book. Apparently some people found it racially insensitive, as the 1810 white family on a plantation are served their fool by black house slaves that don't seem to be unhappy in their work, enjoying licking the bowl, and so on. This caused some rage on the part of some readers, and in response, the author apologized to all those offended and donated her earnings from the book to an appropriate charity.

My family is white, and we discussed the racial politics of slavery and slaves serving white people in this country. And I appreciated their not avoiding racial and class issues. And feminist issues, as mostly women make the food, of course. The 2010 meeting includes a biracial person, an integrated couple, a man and boy making the fool, so I thought for a children's book they were subtly addressing these issues so parents and kids could more deeply discuss them. But to give this book two stars (as some have done) because the slaves (they were house slaves, not field slaves) were not depicted as angry or even seem to be smiling, when the art is so elegant and every aspect of the tale is so thoughtful, that just seems stupid and insensitive to me. It's like one issue voting, which I get, and sometimes do, I suppose, but in this case I disagree.

I know my Toni Morrison. I can see why black folks might read it differently than white folks, though. Reading white is different, certainly, than reading black, maybe especially with respect to issues of slavery. Maybe, given the chance to depict in a small way the great divide between white privilege and slave denigration they could have chosen a little differently, but I for one am glad they included slaves at all. And sure, maybe they could have depicted freed slaves making fool in 1910, but. . . you know, the main point of THIS book is not racism.

Of the first 6 books we read this year, this was our second favorite, which is kind of surprising given it is essentially non fiction, and has so much information packed into it. But is elegant and informative. We liked it a lot and recommend it.

Dave 4 stars, maybe 4.5 (but all the work and research that went into it is awesome)
Tara 4 stars
Harry (10) 3.5 stars (but Harry is the least interested in cooking in the family)
Henry (9) 4.5 stars
Lyra (8) 5 stars
Profile Image for Kaethe.
6,403 reviews462 followers
September 30, 2015
Four different time periods, four different parents making blackberry fool with their children. I appreciate the attention to detail and accuracy. Also, now I want to try this, although I wouldn't normally consider myself a big blackberry fan.

Addendum: (30 September, 2015) White privilege means not having to think about whether or not I approve of the decision to depict smiling slaves. I'll ponder what Elisa wrote

Library copy
Profile Image for Mary Ann.
1,485 reviews278 followers
November 16, 2015
On the surface, this is a warm and sweet book about how parents and children have made blackberry fool together throughout the ages. Probe a little deeper, and it's a book that can lead to many conversations with children. Some families will want to talk about who is making the food and serving it--the role of women and slaves. Others will notice the way preparing and storing food has changed. There has been much debate about the depiction of the 19th century slave family this book (see this NY Times article), but each reader will need to judge for herself. As Emily Jenkins wrote in her author's note,
"The story includes characters who are slaves, even though there is by no means space to explore the topic of slavery fully. I wanted to represent American life in 1810 without ignoring that part of our history. I wrote about people finding joy in craftsmanship and dessert within lives of great hardship and injustice--because finding that joy shows something powerful about the human spirit."

As we come together as families, I personally believe we must find ways to talk about the hard subjects while still acknowledging our community and support for one another. I accept Jenkin's decision, especially since she and Blackall explained their thinking in endnotes, although my strongest belief is that we should share a wide range of views of the past with children.
Profile Image for Barbara.
13.1k reviews271 followers
April 11, 2015
This deliciously descriptive picture book relates how four different families over the cross of four centuries prepare a yummy blackberry fool. The book begins in 1710 in Lyme, England, and ends in 2010 in San Diego, California. Following each step of preparing the dessert over four different centuries allows readers to note the differences in the way food was prepared as well as considering gender roles, slavery, and even the meals that were typically served to families in those years. I loved considering how the dessert went from being chilled in an ice pit to keeping cool in a refrigerator. The colorful illustrations, created with Chinese ink, watercolor and blackberry juice [on the endpapers], are filled with details and will certainly make readers asking for second helpings. Having a recipe for blackberry fool is an added bonus, leaving many readers such as me anxious for time to pick the succulent fruit. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and suspect that young readers will appreciate it even more each time they peruse it.
Profile Image for Mid-Continent Public Library.
584 reviews186 followers
December 11, 2020
How many of us have family recipes that have endured through generations? No doubt, many of them are on display during holiday dinners and family get togethers. Have you ever thought about how preparation methods, kitchen appliances, and family dynamics have changed over the many years that these recipes have been in your family. Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall have taken one recipe -- Blackberry Fool -- and told us a story that is for all of us, not just children. The books begins in 1710 and ends in 2010, covering three centuries. Many things change in that time. Utensils and other advances shorten the prep time. Whipping cream in 1710 took about 15 minutes using a handful of clean twigs. Modern cooks can have it done in just two minutes. Gender roles have changed throughout that time as has the combinations of people around the table. What other changes can you see as you read the book together? What hasn't changed, though, is the pleasure we take in licking the spoon and cleaning out that bowl at the end of the meal. Yum! Be sure to read the enlightening notes from the author and illustrator at the end of the book. Highly recommended. * Reviewed by Darla from Red Bridge *

Profile Image for Dolly.
Author 1 book643 followers
July 18, 2016
I was very impressed with this tale - four families, four centuries, one delicious treat says it all.

The narrative is engaging and just repetitive enough to keep the attention of younger children.

And the illustrations are marvelous, weaving the commonalities and differences of these four families throughout the ages. The details are amazing.

I understand the discomfort with the depiction of a slave family - not sure that it shouldn't have been included, as it is a part of our history that should be discussed and not merely glossed over.

Is it the best representation? I suppose not, but I appreciated the opportunity to discuss the issue with our girls.

The notes from the author and illustrator are terrific, too, showing some of the inspiration, intention, and research that went into the story.

The social commentary that is alluded to through the illustrations is explained further in this section.

We all learned that the word fool is based on a French word that means "to mash" or "to press".

I even loved how Sophie Blackall used the purple juice from blackberries to paint the end papers.


We really enjoyed reading this book together and can't wait to try the recipe! (see below)

Blackberry Fool: A Recipe

2 1/2 cups fresh blackberries (other berries will do - but the fool won't be such a nice purple color; frozen berries will work, though fresh are nicer.)
1/2 cup sugar, divided in two
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Find an adult to cook with you.

Mash the berries with a potato masher or a large fork. If you've got a food processor, you can use that. With clean hands, press the crushed berries through a sieve to remove the seeds. Sprinkle the fruit with 1/4 cup of the sugar. Stir.

In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, the vanilla, and the cream. Using a whisk or whatever kind of beater you have, whip the mixture until it makes soft peaks, but not stiff ones.

Fold the sugared berries into the whipped cream. Taste it to see if it's sweet enough. Add more sugar if you need it. There should be streaks of white and purple.

Refrigerate for 3 hours or more.

Eat! And don't forget to lick the bowl.
(p. 37)

21 Jun 2015 update: We made the dessert for Father's Day and it was a hit. It was fairly simple to make and our girls loved the homemade whipped cream.

This book was selected as one of the books for the March 2016- Crafts discussion at the Picture-Book Club in the Children's Books Group here at Goodreads.
Profile Image for Tasha.
4,117 reviews104 followers
January 13, 2015
Follow one recipe through the centuries in this exceptional picture book! Starting over 300 years ago in England, the book starts with a mother and daughter out picking blackberries. Once home, the mother skims cream from the milk from their cow and whips it with a bundle of twigs for 15 minutes until she has whipped cream. That is combined with squashed and strained blackberries mixed with sugar to create blackberry fool. The fool then needs to be cooled, so they head to the hillside to chill it with sheets of winter ice that they store there. Then the family enjoys it and the little girl licks the bowl clean. As readers turn to the next family in Charleston, South Carolina about 200 years ago, they will notice so many changes just not in the recipe itself. The method of refrigeration changes, the method of whisking the cream and the time it takes, the way they get the ingredients, and the family setting. Next comes even more changes as the setting turns to a century ago in Boston and then the final family, a modern San Diego father and son. Each family brings updates to the methods but enjoys the delicious dessert exactly the same way, with gusto!

Jenkins has an author’s note at the end of the book that further explains and points out the changes from one century to the next in the way food is procured and prepared. Even the use of actual recipes only appears in the final family. Written in a jolly way, this picture book uses repetition and patterns to make sure that children will see the differences in the way the food is prepared as the time passes. It is a fascinating look at how food preparation has progressed but also in how very much has stayed the same.

Blackall’s illustrations are playful and clever. She too uses repetition in her illustrations, showing the joy of licking the whisk or spatula and the final head dive into the bowl after the meal is complete. There is a simplicity to her art as well, allowing the settings she conveys on the page to speak clearly. One knows even without the words that you are in a different time and place thanks just to the illustrations.

A joy to read and share, this book has all the delight of a great dessert but is also packed full of historical information and detail. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Profile Image for Marjorie Ingall.
Author 6 books123 followers
July 20, 2022
A parent and child make blackberry fool in 1710, 1810, 1910 and 2010. It's so minimal and so much.

The text by Emily Jenkins (Toys Go Out, and as E. Lockhart, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks) shows you the different lives of the dessert-makers -- how they get the cream, the tools they use to whip it, how long it takes, how they keep the bowl cold. The illustrations from Ivy & Bean/Baby Tree/kickass subway poster artist Sophie Blackall let you examine the different costumes, settings and objects in each era. Observant kids will love comparing and contrasting. The back matter is don't-miss -- author and illustrator each talk about their process and why they made the decisions they did (Jenkins points out that she's given you an opportunity to gently talk about slavery, since the 1810 family are slaves who don't even get to eat their own dessert; Blackall talks about how she painted the end-papers with blackberry juice and how she made historical decisions about market-shopping, fashion and footwear).

I loved that the final dessert makers are a dad and son instead of mother and daughter, and the dinner guests include a multiracial family. (And everybody is dressed in Blackall's trademark quirky, detailed awesomeness.)

After Maxie and I read the book, we made the fool. Kids loved it; Maxie was so proud. (And no oven needed! Great summer recipe!) I personally felt it would have been better with a little port or madeira in it, but I understand why this is not in the recipe in a CHILDREN'S BOOK.
Profile Image for N.
910 reviews13 followers
February 6, 2015
Jenkins traces social and technological changes across four centuries and demonstrates these through the preparation of a simple dessert. This delightfully illustrated picture book begins in England in 1710, with a mother and daughter milking a cow to produce their own cream, utilizing a handmade straw whisk to whip it, and picking berries to make a Blackberry Fool, a recipe that we see replicated next in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1810, there are stark differences. Foremost, readers are introduced to another mother and daughter, but these two are not making the dessert for their own enjoyment, but for that of their master. They draw water from a well and use a cork-insulated ice filled box set in the basement to chill the Blackberry Fool. In Boston, Massachusetts in 1910, a mother and daughter purchase their blackberries at a market, have their cream delivered in glass bottles, follow a recipe from a book, and have the luxury of using an ice chest conveniently located in their kitchen. Lastly, in 2010 we see not a mother and daughter, but a father and son preparing dessert, marking a significant change in gender roles. The father doesn’t call the recipe from memory like in 1710 or 1810, but uses the internet to print one out. An electric mixer takes the time to whip the cream down to two minutes from the fifteen it took in 1710. Another progression, is that of the racially diverse group that assembles to share in this final serving of Blackberry Fool.
Profile Image for Akemi G..
Author 9 books120 followers
October 14, 2015
I enjoyed this. History and cooking, two topics I like, put together with pretty pictures. I believe the description of how people dressed, what their residence looked like, etc. in each era is accurate in the pictures, and it's interesting to see how things around food preparation have changed over the last three hundred years.

I just wonder if the depiction of slaves is offensive to African Americans. It's a historical fact we own, and pretending as if it never happened won't make it so. And presenting the historical fact doesn't mean supporting it. But then, I am not part of the history, so I accept I don't fully understand the stigma that still remains in many people.

Regarding the fact that it has traditionally been women who did the cooking, I don't have a problem seeing it in this book. Again, it has been a fact so far. Things can change, and are changing, but change doesn't happen by ignoring history. Rather, it happens based on history--which is why I like learning about history. History is not about memorizing names and years; it's about understanding why things happen. Everything we see today has a history. Like a bowl of blackberry fool.

The book comes complete with the recipe.
Profile Image for The Reading Countess.
1,737 reviews57 followers
February 27, 2016
My school's librarian told me about the controversery swirling around A Fine Dessert as she checked out a stack of Bluebonnet titles for me to peruse over the weekend. I hadn't heard about the hullabaloo and she quickly flipped to the "offensive" pages to show me. After having pored over the book for much longer than need be, I am uncertain about what to say-except this...A Fine Dessert is expertly written after an exhaustive research process. It was then handed to a highly respected artist who, once again, spent an inordinate amount of time researching the intricacies of each time period making sure to be accurate as well as interesting. I don't understand the pot-stirring objectioners about this one, and believe it to be much ado about nothin'. Actually recalling the book from its Bluebonnet list status is wrong on a number of counts. I urge as many people as possible to read A Fine Dessert for themselves. Hopefully, they, too, will see what I did: an interesting tale of how our society has changed socially, morally, and technologically while still holding many customs close to our heart. How can THAT be a problem?
Highly recommended
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,035 reviews25 followers
April 1, 2015
I love picture books that tell a great food story...like Polacco's Thundercake.

Or a young child's look at chronological changes.

All done so well and lovely in this picture book featuring families making blackberry fool.

The author brings in the ideas of slavery and roles of women through her subtle introduction of characters...I wonder if families will just read this book or also talk about each family dynamic?

Profile Image for Crystal.
2,187 reviews112 followers
October 25, 2015
I am editing this review because I failed to address things earlier. I was uncomfortable with the section that depicted two individuals that were enslaved. i was thrilled with the idea of the book and the dessert, but I glossed over that bit part that made me incomfortble because it's all so beautiful otherwise. That was a mistake. I still appreciate the ability of the artist and the way that the author and illustrator showed changes over time, but do not want to ignore the problematic issues of the book. I didn't question it much unitil I read reactions on Twitter recently from African Americans. Here also is the Publisher' Weekly review that touches on the issue http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0...

Review from blog http://readingtl.blogspot.com/2015/05...
In this amazing book, readers are taken to four different time periods visiting four different families making what looks to be a truly scrumptious dessert - blackberry fool. I haven't yet made it since I am waiting for the appropriate season, but you can bet I will. I adored the illustrations and Sophie Blackall paid attention to detail as she created the lovely pictures. She shared some of the process on her blog (click on the title in the tags below the post to see all of the entries). You may see the decisions and the research that went into many of her illustrations. She even shares about the endpapers. I love it when I see something other than white endpapers. She used blackberry juice to make them. Very cool. Also, if you have a copy of the book that isn't covered for library use, do take the jacket off. The cover is also beautiful.

The text is awesome too. Looking for changes over time is a key component of our social studies curriculum. This book is a perfect way to show that even cooking can have changes over the years. For older students especially, you can talk a lot about the social changes as well as the invention of tools and even as I noticed, the change in diet. It is only later that people are adding refined sugar to the whipping cream. Another interesting aspect to discuss would be where people are getting the raw materials.

There is so much to love about this book. If you want to know more, be sure and visit Sophie's blog, but also read the Publisher's Weekly interview with both Emily and Sophie.
Profile Image for Joan.
1,998 reviews
March 21, 2015
I became aware of this book due to a patron request/complaint. She wanted to know how it was that her system in the midwest had purchased this and we hadn't??!!! She was pretty upset. I thought about writing the truth to her and settled on thank you for bringing this book to our attention, we will be purchasing it. It turned out I had a review copy of the book so I read it. I CAN see why she was surprised we hadn't purchased it since the last section takes place in San Diego. This is a deceptively simple story about 4 groups of people who make a dessert and show how the making had changed throughout the years, from using clean twigs as a beater to using food processors. I got the reaction most apparently did: I want to go try some right now! There is huge amounts of social commentary going on in the illustrations. I really appreciated the illustrator's afterword explaining how thoroughly she prepared. She went out and made her own whisk out of twigs to see how it would look and work. She did extensive research on fashion. She decided against overtly showing what happened in slavery to people but sure gave people a lot to think about when you realize after all their work, the slave mother and daughter had to hide in the basement to lick the bowl from all their hard work. I loved how she showed three mom/daughter pairs then showed a dad/boy pair for the last fool made in San Diego. I also loved how they shared it with a diverse group of friends and the fun comment that there wasn't much left to lick afterwards since it had been so popular a desert. She researched housing in San Diego so she could paint a representative house. There is lots of cultural and social commentary going on in this book. Betty Bird of SLJ is speculating this could be Caldecott possibility and I can see why. However, with it so early in the year, she has more chances of being wrong than otherwise I'm afraid. But it would be great if this came to people's attention!
Profile Image for Clarissa.
1,234 reviews30 followers
March 5, 2015
This lovely picture book tells the story of four families making the same dessert (Blackberry Fool) over centuries. 1710, 1810, 1910, and 2010. Each family uses the technology of their time in 1710 the cream is beaten with a whisk made from twigs, in 1810 a wire whisk is used, in 1910 a rotary beater, and in 2010 an electric mixer is used. The refrigeration technology changes too, as does the way the families get their ingredients. The illustrations are lovely, including the endpapers made with the juice of crushed blackberries. A recipe for Blackberry Fool is included, along with a historical note about the dessert and how it was made. There is also a note from the illustrator about the research that went into the pictures.
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,610 reviews46 followers
March 25, 2015
This book goes from 1710 to 1810, 1910, to 2010. It shows how a simple dessert was made in each of those years, and shows the kitchen tools used in each of those times. It shows how the dessert was cooled in each of those years. It tells how long it took to whip the cream, and how the blackberries were mashed and sieved. The illustrator told about research into the clothing, furniture, and kitchen equipment that were used during the various time periods. The 1810 year, shows a slave family making the dessert for the masters family. The 2010 dessert is made by a father and son, showing the evolution of men cooking for the family, instead of woman. This is a nice little book.

This book was a librarians choice on the libraries web site.
Profile Image for Mary.
2,606 reviews11 followers
November 9, 2015
A delicious picture book that follows a dessert recipe through four centuries focusing on four families in four different times and places. Each family's story reveals much about the culture of each time period.

The storytelling is straightforward with no commentary so the reader is able to come to their own conclusions including those about gender and race. The last double page spread is of a dinner party in a contemporary setting with a diverse group of dinner guests, emphasizing how much has changed. This book will pair well with Donald Hall's The Oxcart Man.
Profile Image for Allie.
1,397 reviews38 followers
February 20, 2020
I deleted my original review (positive) because it was written from a place largely oblivious to insidious racial bias in kid lit. It wasn't glaring to me (a white woman), so I didn't notice. Cleared my rating, removed my review, and I do not recommend it to folks in the library or elsewhere (not that I ever did, but I considered it). This book can do better, and so can I.
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