Gooseberries for me taste of a sweet tangy mixture of pineapple and kiwi. The fruits make an interesting addition to salads, cooked dishes, and as a garnish. Cook with apples or ginger to make a distinctive dessert, or poach them with a little sugar and water to make a traditional accompaniment to mackerel.
Although gooseberries are now abundant in Germany and France, it does not appear to have been much grown there in the Middle Ages, though the wild fruit was held in some esteem medicinally for the cooling properties of its acid juice in fevers; while the old English name, Fea-berry, (still surviving in some provincial dialects), indicates that it was similarly valued in Britain, where it was planted in gardens at a comparatively early period. William Turner, botanist describes the gooseberry in his book the New Herball, written about the middle of the 16th century, and a few years later it is mentioned in one of Thomas Tusser’s quaint rhymes as an ordinary object of garden culture.
“The Barberry Respes, and Gooseberry too, Look now to be planted as other things do”.
It is not exactly known when the gooseberry became an object of cultivation in this country, but it had become a garden fruit in the reign of Henry VIII.; Soon after this period descriptions were given of about a dozen varieties – and among the rest, one called the Blue, a colour not now found among the hundreds of varieties in cultivation. The fruit was apparently very small when the plant was first brought under cultivation, resembling the small tasteless fruit which is still found in the south of Europe; and in point of size, at least, it does not appear to have improved much for more than a century after Tusser’s time, as may be inferred from the surprise expressed by Samuel Pepys (was an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament in the 17th-18th century, now most famous for the diary he kept for a decade while still a relatively young man) at seeing gooseberries as big as nutmegs. Improved varieties were probably first raised by the skillful gardeners of Holland, whose name for the fruit, Kruisbezie, may have been easily corrupted into the present English vernacular word. Towards the end of the 18th century the gooseberry became a favorite object of cottage-horticulture, especially in Lancashire, where the working cotton-spinners have raised numerous varieties from seed, their efforts having been chiefly directed to increasing the size of the fruit. It is a good source of Vitamin C.
It seems the flavour of the berries to improve with increasing latitude. In Norway (where it’s named “stikkelsbær” — or “prickly berry”), the bush flourishes in gardens on the west coast nearly up to the Arctic circle. However the dry summers of the French and German plains are less suited to it, though it is grown in some hilly districts with tolerable success. It is also widely found in villages throughout the former Czechoslovakia and in Hungary.
Smooth, timeless and soothing dessert, the fool is simply crushed fruits 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.
Elderflower, (in the form of flower heads) simmered with the gooseberries or a drop of cordial stirred in with the cream, is also a classic. However red gooseberries will produce a sweeter, slightly murky-colored 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.
1.Wash the berries and remove the stems and tops with scissors before eating or cooking. To cook them put the prepared berries in a pan with a little water and 1 tbsp sugar per 100g (1/2 cup) fruit (taste, and add more sugar if you need it once the fruit has softened). Cover and cook gently for 10-15 min until soft. Once cooked, the gooseberries can be used in sweet dishes and for savory sauces or for the gooseberry fool.
450 gr gooseberries, 3-4 heaped tbs of sugar, 300 ml double cream, 1 natur yoghurt
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.
For the custard
2 egg yolks, 1 tsp arrowroot, 150ml/5fl oz milk, 30g/1oz sugar, 150ml/5fl oz double cream, Fresh elderflowers, to decorate
Top and tail the gooseberries. Put them into a pan with the elderflower cordial. Bring up to the boil and then simmer gently until soft and pulpy. Leave to go cold, and then place in a serving dish.
Make the custard heat the milk up in a pan to the point of boiling. Beat the egg yolks, arrowroot and sugar together in a jug and pour the hot milk into the jug.. Mix well and then return to the pan. Heat gently until the custard thickens, but do not boil. Strain into a clean bowl and cool.
Whip the cream to the same consistency of the gooseberries.
Gently stir the cream into the gooseberries and then fold in the custard. Try to give it a marbled effect in the serving bowl. Place a few elderflowers on top to decorate.
Put the gooseberries and sugar in a pan with a splash of water. Heat gently, stir, then bring to a simmer and cook until the fruit starts to burst. Squash the gooseberries with a potato masher or fork until pulpy. Cool then chill until cold in the fridge.
Put the yoghurt in a bowl and beat with the icing sugar and vanilla until smooth. Gently whisk in the cream (it will thicken as you whisk so don’t overdo it). Ripple through the gooseberry pulp then spoon into pretty glasses or bowls to serve.
225g self-raise flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 200g golden caster sugar, 3 eggs,150g pot natural yoghurt, 4 tbsp elderflower cordial (Bottle Green) 175g butter, melted and cooled
For the fool
330g gooseberries, topped and tailed, or use frozen or jared, 50g golden caster sugar, 1 tbsp elderflower cordial, 200g crème fraîche, icing sugar, for dusting
Method: Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Put 12 muffin cases into a muffin tray. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Beat the eggs, yogurt, elderflower cordial and melted butter together with a pinch of salt, then stir into the dry ingredients. Spoon into the cases (they will be quite full), bake for 18-20 min until risen and golden then cool on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, put the gooseberries and the sugar into a frying pan, then gently cook for 10 min until most of the berries have collapsed, but there’s still some texture. Taste for sweetness (add more sugar if you like, but remember that the cakes are sweet), then stir in the elderflower cordial and allow to cool. Once cool, fold into the crème fraîche.
To serve, cut a section out of the top of each cake using a small, serrated knife – heart shapes look sweet, but if that’s too fiddly simply cut off the top and cut in half, like a butterfly cake. Spoon a dessert spoonful or so of the fool into each cake, top with the piece that you cut away, then dust with a little icing sugar.
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.
The gooseberry in the south of England will grow well in cool situations, and may be sometimes seen in gardens near London flourishing under the partial shade of apple trees; but in the north it needs full exposure to the sun to bring the fruit to perfection.