"Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat" | Spotlight

In "A Fine Dessert" Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall tell the story of how the creation of one dessert—blackberry fool—has changed over the centuries. It's a perfect choice for a sharing with a class, or as a group-reading selection.
dessertIn A Fine Dessert (Random/ Schwartz and Wade, 2015; Gr 1-4) Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall tell the story of how the creation of one dessert—blackberry fool—has changed over the centuries. From Lyme, England to modern-day America, four parent-child duos are spotlighted, each one's activities a story in itself. The book is a perfect choice for sharing with a class, or as a group-reading selection. In addition to offering a window into social history, it provides a look at the evolution of household technology. Read it aloud, mine it for discussion points, and expand on its themes through the standards-aligned, differentiated activities included here. The tale begins in 1710 with a mother and her daughter setting out to pick wild blackberries. As they pluck the fruit, the thorns prick “the fabric of their long skirts”; back at home they skim the “cream off their evening’s milk” and whip it with a bundle of “clean, soft twigs.” Water is drawn from a well, the berries rinsed and strained in muslin, and the finished product chilled in a hillside ice pit. In 1810, near Charleston, SC, an enslaved woman and her daughter use a metal whisk made by a blacksmith to beat the cream and a tin sieve to drain the berries. They serve the dessert to “the master and his family,” enjoying only a lick of the bowl themselves, hidden in a closet, after the family has been served. By 1910 in Boston, a recipe book is consulted and a rotary beater and wooden icebox employed in the process. Fast forward to 2010 San Diego, CA, a father and son purchase their blackberries and organic cream at supermarket, locate a recipe on the Internet, whip up the dessert with an electric mixer, and serve it to guests after a dinner featuring an international menu. Along with the dessert, licked spoons and bowls, a chorus of “Mmmmms,” and Sophie Blackall's charming illustrations tie the stories together. Folk-art elements, a muted palette, and rich details characterize the Chinese ink, watercolor, and blackberry juice (!) full-page and spot-art paintings. Children will glean numerous details about life across the centuries, from slavery to Sunday dinner traditions and clothing styles, to the evolution of kitchen technology. Even the items that decorated the rooms and walls of these homes tell stories and provide information on the setting for each vignette. After sharing the book and some of the activities below, classes will want to make the dessert. A recipe is included, as is a note by Jenkins, which discusses her research.
A Teaching Guide to A Fine Dessert by Dawn Jacob Martin Guiding Questions Teaching note: As students answer each question, encourage them to support their claims with textual evidence.
  • Ask, from 1710 to 2010, how does the process to make blackberry fool change? Provide examples from the text and use the illustrations to support your answer. (Reading Literature: Key Ideas and Details: RL.2.7, R.L., 3.7)
    • If students struggle: Use the sequence map below to organize the dessert-making process from each century.  Pose questions such as, how does each family collect the ingredients? How do they combine the ingredients? How do they cool the whip once it is complete? AFineDessert_TeachingGuide_chart
  • Highlight the many different sounds included when characters make the “whipped cream” (i.e., Beat, beat… whirr, whirr…Zzzzzzzzzh…). Ask, what type of meaning do these sounds add to the story? (Reading Literature: Key Ideas and Details: RL.2.4)
    • If students struggle: Ask, what types of tools do these sounds represent (look at the pictures)? Would it be as interesting if the author wrote, “they used a whisk or blender?” Why or why not?
  • Require students to think about the four family dinners that take place. Ask, how are the characters similar and different in each century?  Who is responsible for making the dessert in each century? Consider the characters in 1810; they made the dessert, why do they have to hide while eating it? What are challenges that the characters from each century may face while making dinner (e.g., the main course and desserts) on a daily basis? (Reading Literature: Key Ideas and Details: RL.2.1, R.L. 3.1, R.L., 4.1)
    • If students struggle: Ask participants to pick one of the first three centuries (1710, 1810, or 1910) and review the final dinner that the family eats (illustration and text). Push them to think about the work that was required to create the dessert. Then have the students make an inference about the steps required to create one item on the dinner menu.
  • Pose the question, what is the theme of the book? In your own words describe what happened in each century. (Reading Literature: Key Ideas and Details: RL.4.2)
    • If students struggle: Reiterate the definition of theme. The theme usually highlights the author’s message or lesson for the readers. Allow students to reference their sequence map to summarize the big ideas from each century. Then, ask them what they learned from the characters in each century. Pose the final question; are any lessons from each century similar or do they vary?
  • Ask students think about each child and parent making blackberry fool in the story. Guiding questions include, how do the characters feel during the process?  How might the points of view differ among characters across the centuries? Support your response with evidence from the text. Would you feel the same way if you were making blackberry fool? Why or why not? (Reading Literature: Key Ideas and Details:, R.L. 2.6, R.L. 3.6, R.L. 4.6)
    • Reading Fluency Connection: Locate the pages where the parents offer a spoon or spatula to the child while making blackberry fool. Allow students to read the dialogue and encourage them to use a voice that matches the parent and/or child.
  • Have students examine the "Blackberry Fool: A Recipe" located at the end of the story. Ask, which ingredients and steps match something that you read in the book? Lastly, with help from an adult, students can make their own blackberry fool recipe book. The book should include a clear list of ingredients, detailed directions for each step, words to link ideas (e.g., also, another, because, for example), pictures and illustrations, and a concluding paragraph about the final dessert. (Writing: Production and Distribution:: W.2.6, W. 3.2, R.L., 4.2)
  • Allow students to research one of the time periods in the text and write a report about the role of mothers, fathers, and children during that time period. Require students to use resources such as books or websites that discuss the period. Lastly, all participants should be prepared to present their findings to a partner. (Speaking and Listening: Presentation of Ideas: SL.2.5, S.L. 3.5; SL.4.5)
  Dawn Jacobs Martin has spent her career supporting students with disabilities through various roles as a practitioner, researcher, Special Education Director, and Assistant Professor. She continues to improve the academic outcomes for students through teacher development, instructional design, and research in the areas of response to intervention, social support, and parent involvement. Feel free to contact her with questions at jacobsdm1@gmail.com.

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