Once upon a time, back in the late 70s/early 80s, there was a little girl. This little girl had white-blonde hair, a mind of her own and a voracious appetite. She’d tried curry before she was a year old and she loved black pudding. If she’d been a bit older than she was she might even have said something like, “I’ve never met a food I didn’t like.”
One day the little girl went with her mother, her father and her little brother on a plane. They were flying to Portugal. In those heady, pre-budget-airline days, every flight had a meal included in the price. The little girl was excited. She’d been on planes before and she loved getting the trays of food. It was so different from the meals that she got at home. For a start, every piece was wrapped in plastic. She loved unwrapping each bit and stabbing at whatever appeared with her wobbly, inadequate disposable cutlery. Today there was a soft, white bread roll which she could spread with margarine from a little individual pot, and there was that strong, strange-tasting orange juice as well, which she rather liked. She peeled back the foil lid and, holding the plastic container with both hands so that she wouldn’t spill it, took a gulp. It made her mouth pucker up in a good way. Eating on planes was fun!
Having eaten her first course and drunk her orange juice the little girl moved on to pudding. She’d been eyeing it all the way through munching the rest of her food. It was brightly coloured and pretty, with sprinkles on the top. Was it a birthday cake? She looked at her mother with big, curious eyes. Her mother answered the unspoken question: “It’s trifle, sweetheart. Try it.” As we’ve already established, the little girl loved food, so she didn’t need asking twice. She dug her bendy plastic spoon into the sprinkle-coated dollop of whipped cream and the layer of custard underneath it and scooped out a big spoonful.
Wow! Underneath the custard there was jelly! It was red. She liked red jelly. In fact she liked all jelly. Orange was her favourite, but red was good, too. She liked squishing it backwards and forwards through her teeth until it became a liquid again and she could make sloshy noises with it. Her grandpa had taught her that trick and it made her giggle. He’d taught her a poem about eating peas with honey, too. Her grandpa was funny.
She took a big bite of the cream and the custard and the jelly and the sprinkles. Yummy! She liked trifle! She told her mother. “Mummy! I *like* trifle! Can we eat it at home?” Her mother laughed. “Maybe, squirrel. Now finish it up, please.”
The little girl dug her plastic spoon deeper into her plastic bowl, past the cream and the custard and the jelly and the sprinkles. Wow! There was another layer of stuff at the bottom! She couldn’t quite work out what it was from looking at it. It was pale brown and a bit shiny. Maybe it was cake? Cake was good. She gouged a big spoonful out of the bowl and rammed it into her mouth with glee.
Had she not been such a well-brought-up little girl she would have spat it straight back out again. It was horrid! It was sort of like cake, but cake that had had orange juice spilt onto it and had gone all squishy. But not even properly squishy – that might have been nice. Then she could have pushed it back and forth through her teeth like the jelly. No, it was a bit like sand, too. Yes! That was what it was like: cake that had been sitting on a plate on the beach and had got a bit sandy and then had some orange juice spilt over it.
It was the nastiest thing she’d ever eaten in her whole, entire life.
She swallowed it down, gagging, and looked at her mother with her mouth downturned. “Mummy. I’ve decided I don’t like trifle after all. It’s horrid.” Her mother raised her eyebrows. “You don’t want it when we get home, then?” The little girl shook her head. “No, thank you.” Her face brightened. “But can we have cream and custard and jelly and sprinkles? I like *that*!”
Fast forward to 2012. The little girl’s grown up. Her hair colour’s darkened to strawberry, rather than white, blonde, but she’s still got a mind of her own and still very much loves food. She also still hates trifle. Many people over the years have tried to persuade her that trifle is, in fact, a foodstuff rather than just the devil’s own snot, and when it comes to food she’s always willing to give things a second chance. (She’s not so forgiving in life, but food – well, food is different.) So she’s tried it. In various forms. From the lurid, many-layered confections that appear at children’s birthday parties, to the altogether more grown up affairs made with whipped cream and alcohol, to all the varieties in between, she’s tried – and detested – them all. Every time it’s the same. The upper layers are delicious. She likes custard and cream. It’s the bit at the bottom that always turns her off. The combination of soggy and gritty just. makes. her. gag.
Trifle is her Waterloo.
She hates it so much it’s become her internet schtick: ‘Loves cats. Hates trifle. Drives like a maniac.’ People react to this in different ways. Some find it amusing, some are offended (it’s just a pudding, people! Sheesh …), and then there are some who have the right kind of attitude and see it as a challenge.
Like Kate Allison.
Kate A (as opposed to me, Kate B – and yes, I am, of course, that same trifle-hating little girl, now all growed up) is one-third of the founding members of The Displaced Nation, a site for expats which focuses on food and humour. It’s my kind of place, so I was over the moon when they gave me an ‘Alice’ award for my Sunday Supper piece. In the write-up of the awards, ML Awanohara (another of the founding members of TDN) asked, in a throwaway kind of a way, just what was so wrong with trifle, anyway?
I replied. The comment thread got long and impassioned, and the upshot was that Kate A challenged me, Kate B, to try her family recipe for St Clement’s trifle.
So. Did I like it?