by Louise Ayer

I don’t have a sister, but if I did it would probably be Priscilla. We met when my daughter, Anjuli, was a newborn and Priscilla was pregnant with her first, Ana. These girls both turned 40 this year, so needless to say we have been friends for a while. We share much in common; values and perspective on life, the raising of our children, a sense of adventure, the importance of establishing family traditions. I was blessed that Priscilla lived only 5 minutes away, so we got to share the raising of our children in a very real way. After Anjuli and Ana, we both followed with two boys, my Austin and her Bartley and then she had a third, Teddy. Every one of these 5 wonderful people are good cooks. We were able, Priscilla and I, to pass on to them the wonder and joy of the kitchen, the value of its traditions, and the concept that we are what we eat.

Priscilla and I shared holidays and the responsibilities of making feasts and parties together. We divided up the tasks and we would each do some. As the kids grew, they would join in as well. Since we all cook, and want to cook, that is a fantastic resource.

One dessert that we loved to make as a shared event is Trifle. Trifle has its roots in England. Trifle has cake and jam, whipped cream, pudding and fruit. It is made like lasagna, in layers. Trifle is festive. You make it in a big bowl and dive in with a big spoon to serve it. It is sensual, decadent, the way a party dessert should be. Big wide eyes of amazement and delight greet its arrival.

It could be a birthday. It would inevitably be in the summer when berries are ripe. You would not want to make it with frozen fruit. I would make a lemon tea cake or a pound cake, slice it, I might sprinkle it with Cointreau and then spread the slices with some luscious jam or my personal favorite, marmalade, made with the wonderful slightly bitter Valencia oranges, and then let the cake sit for hours to absorb the flavors. Priscilla would arrive with the sweetened fruit and pudding, and I would whip the cream. Then together we would assemble the trifle; cake on the bottom, the pudding, then the fruit and finally the whipped cream all assembled in a giant bowl.

Everyone would line up right away holding out their bowls. There is great flexibility in what you choose for the cake, the kind of jam, whether you sprinkle the cake with Cointreau or some other favorite sherry, or not. The following recipes are one of my favorite combinations. You can follow mine or start your own family tradition.

I encourage you to make a Trifle with a partner. It is so much fun when you share the work.

All my ingredients are organic or as close to organic as I can make them.

Lemon Tea Cake

This recipe was inspired from the first book I ever owned about baking bread, Sunset Cookbook of Breads published in 1966. Dogeared and stained though it may be, I still lovingly refer to it.

½ cup ghee
1 cup raw sugar (or 1 cup coconut palm sugar*)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 ¼ cups regular all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
½ cup toasted, coarsely ground almonds
Grated peel of 1 lemon
¼ cup raw sugar (or ¼ cup of date sugar*)
Juice of 1 lemon

Grease a 5-by-9-inch loaf pan with ghee and dust with flour. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In the bowl of a KitchenAid Mixer, cream the ghee with sugar. Mix in the eggs. In a medium bowl add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir to combine. Add the flour alternately with the milk to the egg mixture until combined. Mix in the nuts and lemon peel. Pour into the loaf pan and bake at 350 F for 1 hour.

When you take the cake from the oven, put the pan on a wire rack. Combine the ¼ cup sugar with the lemon juice and pour over the top of the loaf while the loaf is hot and still in the pan. You can poke a few holes in the cake before you pour on the juice. Let it cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pan, and let it continue to cool on the wire rack.

Makes 1 loaf

*For anyone who is concerned about their blood sugar levels, you can substitute an equal amount of coconut palm sugar for cane sugar. You can also use date sugar in equal amounts, but you can’t bake with date sugar. It will clump. You can use it for anything else. I used it here to sweeten the whipped cream. Both of these ingredients are delicious and will not spike your blood sugar the way cane sugar will.

Sweetened Fruit

This can be anything you like. The following are just suggestions
4 pints of berries (any combination of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries or blackberries), but fresh only, not frozen
1 to 2 pints of other cut up fruit such as peaches or bananas
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup of maple syrup

Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but not more than 8 hours.


6 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
¼ cup dry Marsala wine*

Set up a double boiler. Put 2 inches of water in the bottom. Set it on to boil and when it boils, turn it down so it is just barely simmering. In the top of the double boiler, beat all the ingredients until well combined, before you put it on the bottom. Now set the top of the double boiler on top of the barely boiling water and continue to beat until tripled in volume and the mixture registers 140 F, approximately 5 minutes. Then beat for 3 more minutes, maintaining the temperature at 140 F. You can use a whisk or a portable mixer. The pudding should be the thickness of heavy cream or slightly thicker.

Set the top of the double boiler over a bowl of ice and continue beating until cooled, 3 more minutes. You can now cover and refrigerate for 4 hours, if you wish. When you remove from the fridge, stir it once more as the Marsala will have settled out of the pudding.

If the zabaglione feels a little daunting, you can substitute with whatever pudding takes your fancy.

*When cooking with wine, please note that all the alcohol would have cooked out of the pudding, leaving only the flavor of the Marsala.

Sweetened Whipped Cream

1 pint of whipping cream
3 tablespoons raw sugar (or 3 tablespoons coconut palm sugar), ground in a coffee grinder until it resembles confectioners’ sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Pour the cream into a deep metal bowl. Whip with a hand-held mixer until it holds soft peaks. (You can also use a stationary KitchenAid mixer on high with the splatter guard in place.) Add the sugar and vanilla. Whip until you have stiff peaks.

Assembling a Trifle

In the morning of the day you will serve your Trifle, cut and sweeten your fruit as per above. Then, several hours before you will serve your Trifle, slice your cake. You can sprinkle the slices with Cointreau or sweet sherry such as Harvey’s Bristol Cream, if that appeals to you, or not. I have done it both ways and they are equally delicious. Just depends on your taste. If the trifle is made for children, you might want to leave out the alcohol.

Now, spread each slice with your favorite jam or marmalade. Cover the sliced cake and let it absorb the flavors of the jam for about 4 hours.

Half an hour or so before you will serve your Trifle, whip your cream as per above.

How you layer your trifle also varies. Some people like to serve it in a big glass bowl so they can see the distinct layers. Try layering as follows: cake, ladle some pudding on the cake, ladle some fruit next, and finally whipped cream. Save some fruit with which to decorate the top.

I like to use a large decorative bowl and cover the bottom with a single layer of cake slices, ladle pudding on them. Put the rest of the cake in a single layer on top, ladle more pudding on top of those slices. I usually don’t use all of the pudding. It depends how thick the pudding is, how much liquid I think the cake can tolerate. Next I put all the fruit I am going to use in a single layer, except whatever I am going to save with which to decorate the top. Then all my whipped cream goes on top. Finally, I decorate with more fruit. I like doing it this way because the layers are thicker, more sensual in my mind. The flavors are more distinct. Any way you do it, it’s heaven.

To serve, just dive in with a big spoon and be generous! The recipe can serve 10, but I usually serve 6 as everyone will want seconds. Trifle brings joy to whoever eats it.

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