No Small Trifle: A Primer on Eton Mess

What's better than a hot mess and makes for some sweet eatin'? Eton Mess, naturally!

But...what is it, exactly? So glad you asked. It's a stately collegiate dessert, defined as "a traditional English dessert consisting of a mixture of strawberries, pieces of meringue and cream, which is traditionally served at Eton College's annual cricket game against the students of Winchester College."

So the Eton part of the name is pretty obvious...but what about the mess? And what's the story behind this vaguely trifle-esque dessert?

According to Robin Weir in Recipes from the Dairy, Eton mess was served in the 1930s in the school's sock (tuck) shop, and was originally made with either strawberries or bananas mixed with ice cream or cream. Meringue was a later addition (many credit this addition to Michael Smith, author of Fine English Cookery). Nowadays, Eton mess consists of pieces of crisp meringue, lightly whipped cream and strawberries, all stirred together - hence the name "mess".

But Eton isn't the only place where it's eaten: A similar dessert is the Lancing Mess, served throughout the year at Lancing College in West Sussex, England (see per this menu).

Of course, you could always describe this dessert the way I did while recently trying to explain it to a friend: "it's kind of like Pavlova and Trifle had a baby."

But no matter how you slice it (or spoon it), one thing is for certain: this is one mess you won't be able to get enough of. It's infinitely adaptable, too: got blackberries or blueberries? Substitute them in whole (or in part) for the strawberries. Don't like meringues? Try it with crumbled Nilla wafers or ladyfingers instead. 

Want a recipe? I will be posting a recipe next Monday on Serious Eats; in the meantime, here's a good one to try, or, if you're in Seattle, you can get Eton Mess at Smith in Capitol Hill.