Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Fine Dessert (Book Review)

Title: A Fine Dessert
Author: Emily Jenkins

Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
Publication: Schwartz & Wade Books, hardcover, 2015
Genre: Historical fiction/picture book
Plot: The subtitle of this book is “Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat,” and that was enough to make me want to read a story about Blackberry Fool.  It follows four unconnected families enjoying a dessert that takes a little work to prepare, beginning with a girl and her mother in 18th century England who pick blackberries together, skim the cream and beat it with a bundle of twigs to make whipped cream, strain the berries through muslin to get rid of the seeds, chill the concoction in an ice pit, and enjoy it with gusto.  The second family is in 19th century South Carolina: the meal is prepared by their slaves, who only get to lick the bowl clean. The third family is in 1910 Boston! They buy their blackberries at an “open-air market” and the mother has a recipe book, a rotary beater for the cream, and a practically modern wooden ice box .
Finally, a modern day family in San Diego appears – a father and son – who find the recipe online and use an electric mixer to make the cream.  They serve it to a group of multiethnic guests of all ages.

The constant is the simple dessert with steps that endure over the years (basically unchanged despite advancing technology), performed companionably by an adult and child together, and a child who licks the bowl at the end. Families enjoying dessert for centuries - the universality of this topic seems to have delighted every person who came across this delightful book.

Audience: Precocious children and their relatives, cookbook and social history fans, families who enjoy cooking together.
What I liked: What a charming book!  The text is understated, yet fully tells the story of each family.  The illustrations are perfect: showing historical detail and revealing humor.  See my favorite above where you can tell how delicious the last bite was.  Your mouth will be watering as you read along.

Historical detail: The author acknowledges that the book raises issues of slavery the person reading the book might want to explore.  She did not want to ignore the issue of slavery in 1810 but contrasts it to the more inclusive community shown in the contemporary family. I didn’t realize until I Googled Emily Jenkins that she is also bestselling author E. Lockhart, of whose YA books I am a big fan.  I once tweeted her to say I couldn’t wait for a new book – it was, of course, a figure of speech, but she very kindly responded by offering to mail me an advance reading copy.  I declined but was very grateful.* This book gives me new appreciation of her skill.

Adult readers will particularly enjoy the illustrator’s notes where she describes, among other things, trying out a bundle of twigs and researching what clothes the characters would have worn.  Her affectionate and painstaking attention to detail is what makes this book extraordinary.  She also shares the process on her blog and when I visited, I realized I have already enjoyed several books she illustrated. 
Source: I read about this book online and received it from a library in the Minuteman System. I plan to buy a copy for my niece.

*I am still a little annoyed with Books of Wonder: I couldn't attend E. Lockhart's booksigning for We Were Liars last May so went in person to order/request a signed copy.  My salesperson was abysmal: she hadn't heard of any of the books I wanted to buy.  She refused to leave instructions for the author to personalize We Were Liars (they did mail an autographed copy in time for my sister's birthday).  Sad you can't even do a favor for your former sales rep!  Porter Square Books and my friend Daniel at Boswell Book Company are always happy to oblige in this way.

Photos copyright to Random House.

1 comment:

LaurieA-B said...

Thank you for recommending this book; I really enjoyed it. The 1910-era illustrations are so Betsy-Tacyish.

I really enjoyed Emily Jenkins's earlier picture book, What Happens on Wednesdays, which depicts a day in the life of a present-day Brooklyn family, and is a lovely read-aloud.