During my childhood summer holidays I always spent two weeks with my mum’s parents, Nan and Granddad. I was very close to my maternal grandparents who eventually came to live with us in the seaside town of Weston-Super-Mare in Somerset.
My grandparents lived in a humble, dark and mouldering Victorian row house in Bristol. My Nan was a superb cook and Granddad was a prize-winning gardener. They had a small back garden packed with flowers and vegetables but this wasn’t enough space for Granddad, so he also cultivated an allotment, (a rented garden in a shared acreage).
My great joy was to go with him to his allotment and spend blissful hours digging, picking fruit and exploring the wild lane ways that surrounded the garden like a maze. I still remember the hot, dusty, fertilizer and tobacco smells of his tool shed, the sensual, smooth feel of new potatoes against my fingers deep in the warm earth and the sun filled songs of blackbirds and robins. But mostly I remember the taste of gooseberries.
Goosegogs we children called them and we knew instinctively when they were ripe and raided everyone’s garden because everyone had at least one gooseberry bush. They grow well in England’s damp climate and have been enthusiastically cultivated and eaten there since the 15th century. My Granddad was no exception and grew enough to supply both of our households. Nan and my mum used them in jam, tarts and other deserts, my favorite being Gooseberry Fool. This creamy desert may be only appreciated by gooseberry loving Brits, however; I recommend that all of you try it at least once.
Here is a classic recipe for it taken from the world famous food writer, Nigel Slater’s column in the British paper, The Observer:
Nigel Slater’s Gooseberry Fool. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin. Smooth, timeless and soothing, the Fool is simply crushed fruit folded into whipped cream – perfect for summer. That said, I like my fools to have a slightly rough texture, with crushed, cooked fruit in among the cream. This is easy to do if you crush the cooked berries with a fork rather than sieving them. The seeds add important contrast to the general creaminess.
The Recipe: Serves 6
450g sharp cooking gooseberries
3-4 heaped tbsp sugar
300ml double cream
Top and tail 450g of sharp cooking gooseberries. Tip them in a pan with 3 or 4-heaped tbsp of sugar and one or two of water, then bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes until the fruit has burst. Cool then chill. Crush with a fork. Whip 300ml double cream till thick, but stop before it will stand in peaks. It should sit in soft folds.
The Trick: Use sharp cooking gooseberries, not the sweeter, fat dessert varieties. Other than that, it is all in the whipping of the cream. Put the bowl in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes before you pour the cream in. Whip slowly, with a hand whisk. Stop once the cream starts to feel heavy on the whisk and will lie in soft, undulating folds. Fold in the fruit only when it is cool. It will curdle if still warm. Don’t leave it uncovered in the fridge for long; otherwise it will absorb all the other flavours in there. Parmesan fool, anyone?
The Twist: Elderflower, in the form of flower heads simmered with the gooseberries or a drop of cordial stirred in with the cream, is a classic. Red gooseberries will produce a sweeter, slightly murky-coloured fool. The best twist is to ripple a spoonful of lightly crushed, cooked berries through the finished fool to give a ripple effect, adding texture and interest.
Gooseberries have a unique flavour of their own beyond compare. Many discerning writers have paid them compliments, but the words of little Marjorie Fleming, “Pet Marjorie,” the youthful prodigy of Sir Walter Scott, are most memorable. Wrote Marjorie in her quaint and charming diary shortly before her death at age seven: “I am going to turn over a new life and am going to be a very good girl and be obedient…here there is plenty of gooseberries which makes my teeth water.”
To view all ‘artratcafe CAFE’ posts go to Categories Menu on Home Page.
Credits – Special thanks to: – poetryoffood.com for gooseberry information and the whole last paragraph. Nigel Slater and The Observer for the recipe, and Google Images for the illustrations.