April 1st is celebrated by pranksters in many countries as April Fool’s Day and even Italy has its own version of this day known as Pesce d’Aprile. In other words, instead of April Fools, Italy has April Fish.
Jokes and pranks are common in Italy but one in particular is classic and explains why the holiday is called April Fish:
You draw a small fish on a piece of paper, cut it out, and tape it on your friend’s back without them noticing. It’s all done a bit in the way you might try to stick a small “kick me” sign where your friend can’t see or reach it.
The poor friend becomes the April Fool, walking around with a Pesce – fish – taped to his or her back until someone asks:
L’hai visto? (Have you seen him?)
The target will answer: Chi? (Who?)
And you tell them: Il pesce d’Aprile! (The April fish)
The person with the fish on their back then realizes that they have been had!
But did you ever wonder where April Fool’s Day came from? Well, surprise! The joke’s on you. Nobody seems to know the true origins. Historians do have some clues, though.For one thing, we do know that April Fools’ Day customs date back to at least Renaissance Europe, but it’s likely the tradition originated long before then.
Some historians have linked April Fool’s Day to the ancient Roman festival of “Hilaria,” where at the end of March, people would come together to commemorate the resurrection of the god Attis. It was a celebration of renewal in which revelers would dress up in disguises and imitate others.
It’s also possible that the medieval celebration of the Feast of Fools, where a mock bishop or pope was elected and church customs were parodied, could have inspired the day.
The origins of April Fool’s Day across the world are disputed, but many believe it dates back to when the Georgian calendar was adopted and many resisted the change; the term may have been used to refer to someone who still stood by the old Julian calendar. Another theory is that those who planted crops before May 1, the traditional first day of Summer, was an April fool.
Whatever its origins, the day is still widely celebrated across the world in surprisingly similar ways. Historians do have some clues, though. For one thing, we do know that April Fools’ Day customs date back to at least Renaissance Europe, but it’s likely the tradition originated long before then.
I adapted this recipe from one in The Brooklyn Cookbook’ by Lyn Stallworth and Rod Kennedy Jr. Makes 15 cakes. Working with this recipe brought back many wonderful memories of this almost forgotten pastry in the red and white cardboard cup.
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 eggs, separated
- 1 tablespoon cold water
- 1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
- Raspberry jam
- 15 Maraschino cherries
- Chocolate sprinkles or shavings (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10×15 inch nonstick jellyroll pan.*
- Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl, set aside.
- In a mixing bowl using a wire whisk or electric beaters, whip the egg whites and water together, gradually adding 1/2 cup of sugar, until mixture is thick, bright white, and glossy. Set aside.
- In a separate mixing bowl, using a wire whisk or electric beaters, whisk the egg yolks until thickened and slightly lighter in color. Gradually add the 1/3 cup of sugar followed by the vanilla and beat until quite thick and pale. Gently fold the yolks into the whites with a rubber spatula, then fold in the dry ingredients until just combined; be careful not to over-mix.
- Spread the batter evenly into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until lightly browned and springy to the touch. Remove pan from oven and set on a wire rack to cool slightly. Cut out rounds of cake with a 2 1/2 – inch cookie cutter and set aside.
- With a chilled wire whisk or electric beaters, whip the heavy cream until it forms soft peaks. Add the confectioners’ sugar and continue whipping until it forms stiff peaks.
- Assemble the Charlotte Russe: Place a round of sponge cake at the bottom of a paper cup or small glass. Top with a teaspoon of raspberry jam, followed by a generous dollop of whipped cream. If desired, spoon the whipped cream into a pastry bag fit with a star tip and pipe into the cup. Top with a cherry and chocolate sprinkles, if desired.
NOTE: A jellyroll pan works best but if you don’t have one, substitute a 9×13 inch nonstick baking pan. Butter the pan generously, and increase baking time to 15-18 minutes.