Traditional Newfoundland Fruit & Jelly Trifle

Newfoundland Fruit & Jelly Trifle layered in a clear footed trifle dish. Top layer cream garnished with raspberries, next layer bananas, then custard, fruit and jelly and last layer cake.

Cake, fruit, custard, jelly and cream. . . Oh, my. . . What a treat when Trifle is served for dessert!

I can't remember mom serving Trifle when I was growing up but we certainly had trifle-like desserts with jelly (Jell-o), cream, custard and fruit. We also had lots of sponge cake with fruit and cream. Aunt Amy's classic Sabbath dessert was a square of plain white cake with canned fruit, a spoonful of jelly and custard all topped with canned cream. It was like a deconstructed trifle and was so delicious. (I always wanted more.) And I remember having Trifle at a wedding. It was served in a miniscule bowl and was no more than two or three spoonfuls. 

But when I moved to Botwood (so many years ago) Trifle was a popular dessert that most everyone made especially for holidays or special occasions. It wasn't long before I was turning out delicious trifles like everyone else. One thing about Trifle is that there must be a million recipes or more because everyone makes them just a little bit different-- with sponge or pound or layer cake, with alcohol or without alcohol (we do without), different flavours of jelly or no jelly, with jam or without jam, homemade custard or Bird's custard or instant pudding, fresh, frozen or canned fruit, fresh whipping cream or Cool Whip or Dream Whip or canned cream and the list goes on and on. Then there are the non-traditional trifles with chocolate or butterscotch or whatever anyone wants to layer in a big glass bowl.  

Here are three other trifles on my blog which are not as traditional as this one but just as delicious.

Anyone who does not want to use a gelatin based product will be pleased to know Walmart sells a gelatin free, vegan jelly dessert made by the Jellicious brand. They have several flavours from which to choose to complement any fruit you may wish to use. The gel sets with Carrageenan, an extract of a seaweed commonly known as Irish Moss. 

And if you can't find the Jellicious I have used Snack Pack Juicy Gels. I melted the gel in the microwave and poured that over the cake and fruit in the trifle. You would need to use the full package for a trifle. These little snacks are also set with Carrageenan. Please note the Jell-o brand uses real gelatin.

*Just to clarify the word "jelly": When a Newfoundlander (especially us seniors) says "jelly" they are more likely referring to a gelatin dessert like Jell-o than a jam that goes on bread. As a child if anyone had asked me if I wanted jelly on my peanut butter sandwich I would have given them a rather strange look as jelly was something you had with custard, fruit and cream. Now, that's all cleared up let's get on with the recipe. đŸ˜‹

This recipe for Trifle is more of a process than a recipe. You choose what kind of cake, jelly, fruit, custard and whipping cream you think will go well together. Look at the pictures below the recipe to see how it's done. Trifle is best made the day before or very early in the day you will be serving it.

Printable recipe at end of post.
Fruit & Jelly Trifle
  • 1 purchased or homemade loaf pound cake/vanilla layer cake/sponge or angel food cake/jam filled jelly roll (Swiss roll)
  • About ½ cup jam, optional
  • 1 package 4-serving jelly/gelatin dessert, your favourite flavour and brand
  • About 3-4 cups cut up fruit/berries, fresh, frozen (thawed) or canned (drained)
  • 2-3 cups homemade custard/Bird's Custard/vanilla instant or cooked pudding
  • 1½ cups whipping cream, whipped and sweetened or about 3 cups whipped topping, thawed
  • Banana, sliced, optional
  • Berries, fruit, nuts, chocolate, etc for garnish
How to make it:
Drain or thaw any fruit that needs draining or thawing. Reserve juice. Dice fruit/berries if needed.

Make the custard according to your recipe or the directions on the tin/box. I use the Bird's Custard most of the time as it's a favourite of mine. Instant vanilla pudding can also be used if you can't find the Bird's Custard or the thought of making a homemade custard is more than you'd like to take on. Set the custard aside in the refrigerator to cool. Make sure the top is covered with plastic wrap or parchment paper.  Lay the wrap right on the surface of the pudding to prevent a "skin" from forming.

Make the jelly dessert according to package directions. You may use any fruit juice that you may have drained from the fruit to replace some of the water. I often decrease the water by one-quarter cup to take into account the juice that still clings onto the fruit. Use a flavour that will go well with the fruit you have chosen.  Let the jelly set until syrupy.

Put a double layer of cake on the bottom of a large clear glass bowl. You may cube or slice the cake. If you wish spread slices of the cake with jam before placing in the bowl. If the cake is very dry or stale, sprinkle with about ¼ cup fruit juice. Place 2 or 3 cups of diced fruit/berries on top of the cake. Pour the semi-set jelly over the fruit. It should seep down into the cake layer. Place the bowl in the refrigerator until the jelly is set, about 2 hours.

When the jelly layer is set spread with the cooled prepared custard. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to chill. Make sure the wrap is placed directly on the surface of the custard. This can be done the day before serving or early in the day you wish to serve the Trifle.

About an hour or two before serving remove plastic wrap from the custard layer and pile with lightly sweetened whipped cream or use a thawed whipped topping. If you wish a sliced banana may be put on the custard layer before the cream is added. Swirl the cream around the top. Garnish with maraschino cherries, nuts, cut fruit, berries or chocolate (chopped or curls). Return to the fridge until ready to serve.

Makes 1 large trifle enough for about 8-10 servings. 

Trifle is layered in a clear glass bowl to show off the layers. Back left is my grandmother's antique footed trifle bowl, back right is a small footed fruit/trifle bowl that I've had for as long as I can remember (which just about puts it in the antique category) and in front is a larger glass bowl which is not antique but older than my grandchildren.  If you don't have a clear bowl use whatever bowl you have that will fit in all the ingredients. Clear bowls and even trifle bowls can often be found at very reasonable prices at thrift stores and dollar stores. No need to bring out the heirloom crystal to enjoy a trifle.

Trifle can also be made in individual servings. I had a little cake leftover from making the big trifles so I used a Snack Pack Juicy Gel container of orange jelly and a snack size cup of mandarin oranges to make two little trifles for our lunch that week. I made a small amount of custard and topped it off with a bit of Cool Whip. (As if we didn't have enough trifle already!)

I used frozen strawberries and raspberries and canned peaches. I cut the peach slices into smaller pieces and any large strawberries were cut into smaller pieces as well. I thawed and drained them and used the juice to replace some of the water when making the jelly.

Make the custard and jelly according to package or recipe directions. Place the custard and jelly in the refrigerator. Place plastic wrap on the surface of the custard so it won't form a "skin". Let the jelly set until syrupy.

This is what goes in my trifle but you can make a homemade custard or even use instant vanilla pudding or a cooked vanilla pie filling. 

Cube or slice the cake and place a double layer in the bottom of your bowl. I used pound cake today but I'm just as likely to use sponge or layer cake. If you wish you can spread slices of the cake with jam before putting it in the bowl. This is very tasty.

I made two smaller trifles for demonstration and was able to divide the ingredients between the bowls. The large bowl would have easily accommodated the full amount.

Place the fruit on top of the cake layer. 

Pour the semi-set jelly over the fruit. The jelly should seep into the cake layer. Place in the refrigerator until set, about 2 hours.

When the jelly is set spread the custard over top. Place the trifle back in the refrigerator until chilled.

About an hour or two before serving pile lightly sweetened whipped cream on the top of the trifle.

A layer of sliced bananas can be added before adding the cream. I love bananas with trifle.

The whipped cream or topping will keep the bananas from turning brown. 

Swirl the cream around the top with the back of a spoon. You could also pipe the cream on but I think the swirls look less formal and more homey and inviting.

The top of the trifle can be decorated with fruit, berries or nuts. A friend of mine always sprinkled chopped pecans on the top of her trifle and I often do that too, but not today. Today I used a few frozen raspberries. 

Dig way down to the bottom of the trifle bowl when serving yourself. You want to get some of everything, including that last layer of cake on the bottom.

It's not very neat looking once it's in the bowl but who cares because it's so wonderfully delicious!

Newfoundland Fruit & Jelly Trifle layered in a clear footed trifle dish. Top layer cream garnished with raspberries, next layer bananas, then custard, fruit and jelly and last layer cake.
Traditional Newfoundland Fruit & Jelly Trifle

To print click on arrow upper right side.⇩          


  1. In Newfoundland its "Stuffed to the Gills" and indicates how full you are (its not stuffed at the gills. That is incorrect).

    1. I am sorry you do not get the meaning of my title. I am Lois Gill and when you come to my house you get stuffed at the Gill's house. You get stuffed to the gills at the Gill's. So it is you who is incorrect.


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