No Trifling Matter

Not every family in Australia spends Christmas at the beach, but nearly everyone has one tradition in common – trifle.

Like many Australian customs, the trifle came from Britain. Trifle is a cold dessert so great for the hot Australian summers. A trifle is easy – layers of custard, tinned fruit, jelly and sponge cake soaked in sherry. Most of the ingredients are straight from the shelf of the modern supermarket. Making trifle is also very easy and you don’t have to bake it. This is the modern version though; the trifle’s history is much longer.

If something is stale, it’s no longer fresh – we typically use it with bread and other baked goods. However you can also describe something else, like a project or idea as stale, meaning it’s been done before or doesn’t have anything new to offer.

The earliest known trifle recipe goes back to 1596, though the description sounds quite different to what I described above. It was with sugar, ginger and rosewater. Only the cream is the same. Sometime in the 18th century, people started to take stale cake and soak it in sherry and serve it with leftover custard. That’s more like the modern trifle.

So how did the earlier trifle become this trifle? It is most likely the same name was used for two different dishes because they were both treated as a non-serious food. The name of the dessert has the same origin as the expression a ‘trifling matter’- something that isn’t taken seriously.

Usually a trifle was a family affair. You can buy them and some up-market restaurants have their gourmet variations, but the materials used and how it is made means that a trifle feels like something anyone can do. And because it is something anyone can do, everyone has his or her own versions. For example, in my family cream isn’t usually used on the top because most of my family isn’t cream lovers. Also my mum always used Swiss roll rather than sponge cake. Like a lot of traditions the reason is ‘just because’ and over the years that was how we did it. One certain ingredient in our family trifle is the jelly – though there are many people who don’t use it.

Googling trifle will bring up many different recipes. Some ask for fresh fruit, some use mascarpone instead of cream. The point about trifle is that it is what you make it. It lets you be creative, which is probably why it has remained a constant all this time.

Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team

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Not every family in Australia spends Christmas at the beach, but nearly everyone has one tradition in common – trifle.

Like many Australian customs, the trifle came from Britain. Trifle is a cold dessert so great for the hot Australian summers. A trifle is easy – layers of custard, tinned fruit, jelly and sponge cake soaked in sherry. The ingredients are easy to get and making it is also very easy. This is the modern version though; the trifle’s history is much longer.

If something is stale, it’s no longer fresh – we typically use it with bread and other baked goods. However you can also describe something else, like a project or idea as stale, meaning it’s been done before or doesn’t have anything new to offer.

The earliest known trifle recipe goes back to 1596, though it is different from today’s trifle. It was made from cream, sugar, ginger and rosewater. Sometime in the 18th century, people started to take stale cake and soak it in sherry and serve it with leftover custard. That’s more like the modern trifle.

Usually a trifle was a family affair. You can buy them but because it is so easy almost anyone can make trifle. And because it is something anyone can do, everyone has his or her own versions. For example, in my family cream isn’t usually used on the top because most of my family isn’t cream lovers. Also my mum always used Swiss roll rather than sponge cake. One certain ingredient in our family trifle is the jelly – though there are many people who don’t use it.

The word trifle has the same origin as the expression a ‘trifling matter’- something that isn’t taken seriously.

There are many different recipes for trifle. Some ask for fresh fruit, some use mascarpone instead of cream. The point about trifle is that it is what you make it. It lets you be creative, which is probably why it has remained a constant all this time.

Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team

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One assumption about Christmas in Australia is that we spend the whole time by the beach. While this might be true for some families, one constant which people don’t realize is that there is something which many Australians have at Christmas – trifle.

Like many Australian customs, the trifle originated in Britain. For those who are still perplexed, a trifle is a cold dessert, so ideal in the hot Australian summer. Layers of custard, tinned fruit, jelly and sponge cake soaked in sherry – the food appears to be the very embodiment of convenience. Most of the ingredients are straight from the shelf of the modern supermarket. Furthermore, preparing a trifle is more akin to building. There is a lot of opening and pouring, but you don’t have to switch on the oven. You can even buy pre-made custard. Yet, the trifle’s history is much older.

If something is stale, it’s no longer fresh – we typically use it with bread and other baked goods. However you can also describe something else, like a project or idea as stale, meaning it’s been done before or doesn’t have anything new to offer.

The earliest known trifle recipe goes back to 1596, though the description sounds quite different to what I described above. It was made with sugar, ginger and rosewater. Only the cream has remained a constant. Sometime in the 18th century, people started to take stale cake and soak it in sherry and serve it with leftover custard. Voila – the modern trifle is born.

So how did the earlier trifle become this trifle? It is most likely the same name was used for two different dishes because they were both treated as a non-serious food. The name of the dessert has the same origin as the expression a ‘trifling matter’- meaning a matter that isn’t taken seriously. Other strange or silly names have been used for English desserts. Would anyone fancy a syllabub – which is cream with sugar and sherry? Perhaps the English didn’t take sweets so seriously.

To dote on something or someone is to be very fond of it. It’s more typically used with people – grandparents often dote on their grandchildren.

We probably have the Victorians to thank for trifle becoming a popular Christmas dish. According to Rita D. Jacobs, the Victorians ‘doted’ on trifle. It is easy to see why. The Victorian era was all about thrift, and nothing was as thrifty as reusing leftovers. Plus, the 19th century was a time when food was becoming increasingly industrialized and sugar more common, so you had a dessert which combined all those in one colourful layered package. For families on limited budgets, the trifle provided a sweet and easy treat for the holidays. When the British colonized Australia, it is easy to see why this dessert remained popular.

Generally a trifle was a family affair. While you can buy them, and some up-market restaurants have their gourmet variations, the materials used and the very nature of its assembly means that a trifle feels sort of amateurish, something anyone can do. And because it is something anyone can do, everyone has his or her own versions. For example, in my family cream is often not used on the top because, apart from me, my family isn’t cream lovers. Also my mum always used Swiss roll rather than sponge cake. Like a lot of traditions the reason is ‘just because’ and over the years that was how we did it. One definite ingredient in our family trifle is the jelly – though there are plenty of people who don’t use it.

Googling trifle will bring up many different recipes. Some ask for fresh fruit, some use mascarpone instead of cream. The point about trifle is that it is what you make it. It lets you be creative, which is probably why it has remained a constant all this time.

Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia

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