As April Fool's Day approaches, it seems only fitting to discuss a much beloved food that shares a name with the holiday: The classic English fruit fool. Though this dessert dates back to the 1400s, it's not the first dish to share a namesake with the upcoming holiday.
That distinction belongs to the Middle Eastern dish ful medames (pronounced "fool" and commonly spelled as fūl or foule), which consists of cooked fava beans served with tahini and spices, and dates siginificantly further back into history.
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According to noted Middle Eastern food historian Clifford A. Wright, some experts believe that ful medames dates as far back as Ancient Egypt. However, the first written mention of the dish comes from the Talmud in the fourth century. While ful can be found throughout the Middle East and much of North and East Africa, the base of the dish stays the same. Cooked fava beans are salted and accompanied by oil, tahini, garlic and lemon, along with any number of vegetables including tomato, onion, chiles and cucumber, and sometimes hard-boiled eggs or dried beef. Depending on where it's being consumed, different breads often accompany ful, ranging from Egyptian aish to Ethipoean injera.
Ful is most commonly eaten for breakfast, especially in Egypt and Syria, where ful is the ubiquitous morning street food, providing a hearty meal that's both cheap and filling. Additionally, ful is often eaten during Ramadan before sunrise in a number of other Muslim countries to make fasting during the day a little less unpleasant.
While ful is incredibly popular and common in much of the greater Middle East, English fool is the food that much of the western world has come to know better. A proper fool is a simple dessert, consisting of pureed stewed fruit, gooseberries being the most traditional, that is folded into a sweet custard. However, whipped cream is often times used instead of custard in modern preparations.
While there's no clear origin of the word "fool" for the dessert, many theorize that it is derived from the French verb fouler, meaning "to crush" or "to press.” Conversely, the word "ful" appears to just be an early name for the fava bean, while "medames" was originally Coptic, meaning "buried," and it may refer to the beans being buried in the pot.
Both fool and ful are staples of their respected cuisines and when eaten back to back, they make up a diverse and quite global meal, perfect for an April 1st celebration. You'd be foolish not to try them both.