Mum’s Traditional English Trifle


My Mum always made a Traditional English Trifle for New Year’s Day. Every year. I can still recall the big bowl of glistening trifle in my mum’s fridge. The colours of the trifle were illuminating. Sparkling. It was like a prized possession taking up most of the room on the top shelf of the fridge. I’m not even sure my Mum allowed anything else to be beside it in the fridge. It. Was. That. Special. Candied cherries glistened on top of delicious sweet whipped cream. Below the cream were cubes of sherry-spiked pound cake suspended in colourful jello. Rainbow coloured fruit cocktail and golden custard swirled in the centre. I couldn’t wait for New Year’s Day dessert.

As I was making it this year, I was thinking how it seems like an odd winter dessert: cold jello, cold custard and cream and cold fruit cocktail. It seems like it should be more of a traditional summer dessert, like for the Queen’s birthday, or perhaps Canada Day. But I realized that what is special about having this very colourful cold dessert in the middle of winter, is that it’s a little reminder that summer will soon be here. It’s reassuring that these arctic temperatures won’t last forever and before we know it all the birds will be back, the bulbs will pop up and all the colours of spring and summer will surround us once again. People often complain about our long cold winters. I don’t mind the cold so much, but what I really miss are the colours of summer.

The first time I made this trifle was many many years ago, for my friend’s daughter’s 5th birthday. She must have heard her mother talk about my Mum’s trifle and wanted that for her birthday cake. So my friend asked if I could make a Traditional English Trifle for the big party. My Mum helped me of course. I had a lot of fun making the trifle and decorating it. I went out and bought the pound cake, jello, whipping cream and candied cherries , as that’s what my Mum used to decorate the top. I used my Mum’s special glass trifle bowl and worked hard to make it as pretty as could be. As it was close to Christmas I chose a lovely lime jello for the bottom and decorated the top with red candied cherries cut in half. It had a lovely red and green theme.

Well, I suppose I underestimated how some children react to green food, because as this lovely trifle was brought to the table of 10 girls, one of them shouted out, ‘Oooh, it’s green! I’m not eating that.” Well, that was a surprise!! In the end, after we explained it was just green jello with cake and whipped cream, a few of the girls tried some. Luckily there were plenty of adults there and we polished it off very quickly. It was very, very delicious.

It doesn’t need to be New Year’s Day to make a trifle. Though trifle truly makes a lovely winter dessert. Try some and you’ll see why.


Mum's Traditional English Trifle

Serves: 8-10
Cooking Time: 30 minutes


  • 1 pound cake
  • sherry or your favourite liquer
  • 1 box of jello
  • 3 tablespoons of custard powder
  • sugar
  • milk
  • 500 ml whipping cream
  • fresh fruit, sprinkles or your choice for decorating the top



Cut the pound cake into one inch cubes. You can sprinkle some sherry or liquer on the pound cake, however, it is not essential. The trifle tastes fine without alcohol. Place the cubed pound cake in the bottom of the bowl.


Mix the jello by following the package instructions.


Pour the jello over the cubed pound cake. The jello should cover the pound cake cubes. If it doesn't, make some more jello and pour overtop until just covered.


Put in the fridge until set.


Mix up the custard powder following package instructions. Let the custard cool down a bit, to about room temperature. You don't want the custard too hot or it will melt the jello when you pour it on top.


Pour the custard over the jello-pound cake mixture.


Put back into the fridge until cold.


Whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Half way through whipping, add sugar to taste, about 2-3 tablespoons. It should taste sweet.


Cover the bowl with saran wrap and place back in the fridge until cold. Decorate with sprinkles, or fresh fruit on the top.


The amounts for this trifle are very flexible and are completely dependent on the size of your bowl. Ideally, each layer should be about 1/3 of your bowl.

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