Equator Trifle: A Halfway Hallmark

On a long-range voyage, a childhood dessert marks the culinary waypoint celebrating miles sailed and miles yet to go. "People & Food" from our March 2007 issue.

March 9, 2007


Equator Trifle Lynda Morris Childress

Small triangles of plastic slid across the game board as the boat heeled to an increasing breeze. This round of Trivial Pursuit might have to be abandoned, but we didn’t rush to clear it away. After making good only 150 miles in the last fortnight, my partner, Peter Maxwell, and I were used to fickle breezes that promised progress and then died away after an hour. Mithril, our 50-foot Van de Stadt steel ketch, was halfway through an 8,000-mile passage from South Georgia Island, in the South Atlantic Ocean, to Ireland.

Sailing across an ocean makes you feel very insignificant. The vast, empty sky and the seemingly endless sea fill your entire world. A vapor trail can become a friend; a piece of floating plastic can be the main event of the day. We were sailing through the seasons on this passage from 54 degrees south to 54 degrees north; we’d spotted icebergs and wore thermal long johns at the beginning, and now we were almost becalmed in the tropics. The wind continued, and Peter hoisted the main again. I peeked in the fridge at the already-made treat that awaited us: trifle. It was a good thing this wind hadn’t come yesterday or our “halfway dessert” would’ve been ruined. Gelatin-one of the key ingredients in our trifle-is a staple on any long voyage aboard Mithril, even though it’s difficult to get it to set evenly on a constantly moving and heeling sailboat. Food in general takes on great significance during a passage, especially sugary treats.

Trifle was the luxury dessert of my childhood, and during the 15 years of Mithril’s long-distance voyaging, it’s come to assume an important place in our lives. We always have a halfway trifle on any voyage. Often it’s the memory of small things that chart the milestones in life, and trifles feature in many of my sailing high points. These sweet treats have included the Southern Ocean Trifle, when a deep depression with densely packed isobars passed like a smudgy thumbprint to the south of us, and the First-Time Transatlantic Trifle, when we went swimming in water more than a mile deep. We’ve never missed this culinary halfway milestone. This one would be dubbed the Equator Trifle.


Making this dessert is a comforting ritual: first steeping the ladyfingers in sherry, then setting the gelatin, making the custard, and finally putting it all together. There have been some disasters, such as when the trifle set while we sailed on port tack and Peter got all the fruit, or the one I made in New Zealand with kiwi fruit, which prevented the gelatin from setting.

The wind continued through the afternoon, and we ate our Equator Trifle in idyllic conditions. Under full sail, the autopilot steered while Peter and I sat in the shade watching the play of sunlight on the still-smooth sea. We sipped champagne and counted aloud as the GPS reached zero degrees latitude, toasting to how lucky we were to be halfway up the Atlantic Ocean with 4,000 miles of sailing still ahead of us.

Equator Trifle


12 small ladyfingers
1 jigger sherry or brandy
1 to 2 15-ounce cans mixed fruit or berries, well drained,
or 6 ounces each of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries
2 bananas (if available)
2 3-ounce packages raspberry Jell-O or gelatin
1 4.5-ounce package custard or vanilla pudding mix
Prepared whipped cream (long-life is fine), to taste
Chocolate sprinkles, syrup, or shaved chocolate

Place the ladyfinders in the bottom of a bowl (clear plastic or glass is ideal) and soak them in the sherry or brandy. Spread fruit evenly over ladyfingers. Prepare the Jell-O or gelatin according to package directions. When cool but not set, pour it carefully over the ladyfingers and fruit. Let set overnight in the fridge. On the next day, prepare custard or pudding according to package directions. Cool. Smooth over set Jello-O or gelatin. Chill. Just before serving, top with whipped cream and garnish with chocolate and/or syrup.

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