The word trifle derives from the French word ‘trufle’ – which means “something whimsical” or “of little consequence.” Kitty never knew this. But her festive trifle lived up to its origin and then layered on the extra, more contemporary flair of something trivial usually becoming something rather unforgettable. 

Christmas circa 1975.

Everyone owned a Rubik’s cube, roller skates and bellbottoms. To eat PEZ candy and listen to Paul Simon’s “still crazy after all these years” was an afternoon well spent. Margaret Thatcher became the first woman leader for a British political party. Betamax and VHS videos were jointly released. And Jaws became one of the very first blockbuster films. Microsoft was formed by Bill Gates and 1975 marked the first joint Russia/US space venture. 

These events might seem anything but “of little consequence” unlike the humble trifle, but 1975 was also the year Eva Caterina Louisa Bailey or affectionately known as Kitty to her friends, made trifle history, at least within her family circle. 

Christmas at the Baileys (Kitty’s family) was a big affair: big hair, big smiles and a big lunch menu. Kitty played the church organ wearing a shade too bright nail varnish and held the title for ‘best macramé & baker’ in her town for three consecutive years. 

She loved entertaining. She was marvelously meticulous, matching glassware and plates for each course. Name place-cards were hand typed, flowers were fresh and fragrant. Everything was perfect, just like her winged eyeliner. Kitty took care of each detail and any offerings to assist her, would insult her to the point of stiff-pouting lips and a stare that could cool the turkey faster than the ice-box. 

Then there was Christmas of 75’. Or more exactly, Kitty’s trifle of 75’. This was perhaps her only less than perfect offering to date. The extra generous layer of custard was intended to mask the generous amount (by a factor of 3) of sherry, accidentally added to the cake. To watch her multi-task the tasty dishes was usually an impressive pleasure to behold. The starters and main were a huge success, but everyone saved some space for Kitty’s puddings, especially her trifle. 

The sherry-soaked cake lifted everyone’s spirits and with lifted spirits came relaxation. Uncle Bob’s truest feelings surfaced. Bob was Mary’s second husband. Bob had three helpings of trifle (3×3=9) and washed it down with a large glass of champagne. 

As customary after lunch, the family lit a candle for the departed family members to celebrate their lives and to remember them at the Christmas gathering. Mary lit a candle for her first husband, Bill. Through her tears she said, “If only you could be here Bill …” 

Bob quickly responded with a deterrent, “Stay where you are Bill, stay where you are. You are much better off without her…”.  

Bob and Mary were separated by New Year. Bob blamed Kitty’s trifle. 

[Some names have been changed to protect my family.]

Kitty’s trifle recipe: [sherry adjusted] Serves 6

Jelly:

6 sheets gelatine, 500ml juice, pomegranate/berry

Place the gelatine in a shallow bowl and cover with cold juice, leave for 10 minutes. Heat the rest of the juice [do not boil] and pour the hot juice over the sheets, stirring gently to dissolve all the gelatine. Strain the mixture into your trifle bowl and chill overnight.

Cake:

Lemon cake, 21cm round cake tin, loose base.

100g butter, 165g white sugar, zest of 1 lemon, 2 eggs, 185g flour, 1 tsp baking powder, ½ tsp salt, 125ml milk.

Syrup: juice of 1 lemon, 50g caster/fine sugar.

Sherry for soaking cake 1/2 cup.

Grease and line your cake tin with baking paper. Oven 180 deg C

Cream the butter and sugar till fluffy, add the zest, add eggs one at a time, mixing well before each addition, sift in flour, baking powder and salt and combine. Stir in the milk and mix till combined. Pour in cake tin. Bake 30-35 min and test with a skewer. While the bake bakes, make the syrup by mixing the sugar and lemon juice. Spoon the syrup over the warm cake. Leave to cool. Cut into 3cm blocks. Drizzle cake with sherry and leave to soak while you make the custard.

Custard:

3 large egg yolks, 50g caster sugar, 50g corn flour, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 600ml full cream milk, 300ml single cream.

Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, corn flour and vanilla extract in a large bowl till blended. Heat the cream and milk together in a small pot, till hot not boiling. Gradually whisk the hot milk/cream into the egg mixture, a little at a time, return the mixture to the pot, stir over a high heat till it just comes to the boil and thickens. Remove from heat and cover with cling film- push it to the surface of the custard to prevent a skin forming. Leave to cool.

Cream and berries:

250ml whipping cream or mascarpone and fresh berries of your choice.

Beat your whipping cream to a spreadable consistency.

To assemble:

Remove your jelly from the fridge, pour in your custard and smooth out to create a second layer. You might not need all the custard, arrange cake blocks snugly on top. Top with cream and fresh berries.