Last post I wrote about the delicious gooseberry. Since I wrote it, I have seen them in quite a few shops, including Morrison’s, so I am feeling good about the gooseberry’s culinary future.
It is important to remember that gooseberries can be served
with meat and fish in rather the same way as tart Bramley apples are: oily fish
such as mackerel is the classic pairing, but I have found recipes that match it
with chicken, goose, pork and mutton or lamb. Sauces and stuffings are made
with the small new tart berries, with just a little sugar. The simplest sauce
being made from halved berries, chopped mint and sugar. The ingredients are
mixed, covered and left to macerate for several hours. Delicious with barbequed
mackerel or herring, and the fact it isn’t cooked means the gooseberries retain
their vibrant green colour.
I mentioned that in France it is known as the mackerel
currant, because it is only ever really served with the oily fish, and even then,
it’s considered particular only to Normandy. It did start life as an English
dish, but as there was much communication between England and Normandy during
the mediaeval period, it’s no surprise that they picked up some tips from the
English during centuries of toing and froing.
I’ve taken elements from three different recipes to come up with mine: Jane Grigson’s English Food (1992), Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families (1847) and Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book (1604). Talent borrows, genius steals and all that. Many of the ingredients are optional, so if you want a cleaner tasting sauce, omit the cream and maybe the butter too. If you are interested, there’s also a great recipe for a gooseberry stuffing for mackerel on my other blog.
It’s a delicious combination – simply grilled mackerel and
the tart sauce, and maybe a green salad on the side. It’s telling you that
summer is here! This pairing is largely forgotten now, but look in some older British
cookery books and you’ll see it crop up again and again.
Young, green, small gooseberries are required for recipes
that are served with savoury food – the later, large sweet ones are best used
in desserts (recipes for those coming soon).
250 g gooseberries, topped and tailed
50 ml water
50 ml white wine, or a dash of cider vinegar
50 g sugar, or to taste
good pinch of ground ginger
salt and pepper
a knob of butter (optional)
2 to 3 tbs double cream (optional)
Put the gooseberries, water, wine or vinegar and sugar in a saucepan and cook until the gooseberries go pale in colour and start to become very soft, crushing them against the side of your pan with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper.
If you want a very smooth sauce with no seeds or pulp, whizz
the whole thing in a blender and pass through a sieve. I like to leave mine
with some texture, but it’s up to you. If you did pass it through a sieve put
it in a clean pan and put it over a medium heat.
Smooth or pulpy, beat in your butter with whisk or spoon
until it becomes glossy, then add the cream.
Add more sugar if you like – remember it isn’t supposed to
be sweet like apple sauce.
Serve alongside grilled or fried mackerel, but also pork,
chicken or goose.
‘Country life has its advantages’, he used to say, ‘You
sit on the veranda drinking tea and your ducklings swim on the pond, and
everything smells good…and there are gooseberries.’
Anton Chekhov, Gooseberries,
The humble gooseberry is not the first of the British summer
fruits that springs to mind, but it is the first of the season, and I think it should
be celebrated just as much as the strawberry or blackcurrant.
It’s quite difficult to find gooseberries in the shops these
days – even good greengrocers don’t seem to sell them, which is odd, because they
keep better than any of our other soft fruits. I suppose one of the reasons for
its unpopularity is that they are usually sold when vibrant green, looking lovely
and fresh but tasting very sour and astringent. In this form they need to be
cooked and sweetened with sugar. Its other disadvantage is that it usually has
to be cooked, no competition amongst the huge variety of exciting dessert fruits
available. It’s a crying shame. Gooseberry season starts in June, but you have
to wait until July for them to ripen into dessert fruit. Patience is a virtue,
The gooseberry is usually a fruit more suitable for cooking, needing considerable sweetening for palatability unless a savoury accompaniment for meat or fish.
Laura Mason &
Catherine Brown, The Taste of Britain
The gooseberry is one of 150 species of the Ribes
genus, which also includes the smaller and daintier black, red and whitecurrants.
They can be found growing wild in patches of scrub all over Britain, so keep an
eye out wherever you see such areas on walks, there may be a hidden gooseberry
plant (I have my own a secret patch). Gooseberry shrubs are typically three for
four feet high, and as any gooseberry forager knows, somewhat spikey.
There are many cultivated varieties including two hybrids;
red and white gooseberry varieties have been crossed with red and whitecurrants
respectively. The hybrids make excellent dessert fruit, helpfully indicting
ripeness when they’ve achieved a good ruby or white colour.
Though looked over now, gooseberries were extremely popular and
have been cultivated in Britain since al least the Fifteenth Century. They were
important because they were the first soft fruit of the summer, cropping well
as far north as the Shetland and Orkney Islands. In the Midlands and Northern
England they were revered, a tradition of competitive growing quickly developing.
There was a single aim in these competitions: to grow the heaviest berry. These
clubs were widespread and at one point there was 170 growing clubs, a handful
still exist today in Yorkshire and Cheshire. To achieve heavy berries, by the
way, you must strip your shrub of berries as soon as they appear, leaving
behind a dozen so that the plant can put all its energy into growing just a few
Gooseberries are also known colloquially as feabes, feaberries,
carberries and wineberries – the latter name coming from the fact
they make excellent wine.
Aside from some parts of northern Europe, gooseberries haven’t
really travelled much further than Britain from a culinary point of view.
According to Jane Grigson, the French ‘have no name for them distinct from that
of redcurrants’. This does seem to be the case; the French word for redcurrant
is grosielle and when gooseberries are called for, they are called grosielle
maquereaux – the mackerel redcurrant.
Although sometimes served with goose, it is not the origin
of the gooseberry’s name as you might assume. It comes from the Old Norman/Middle
English groses or grosier, the old word for – wait for it – grosielle,
the French for redcurrant, so in effect we called gooseberries redcurrantberries!
All of these words come from the Frankish root krûsil
which means ‘crisp berry’, and the gooseberry certainly is that.
Yellow and red are dessert fruit, let them lie on the
hottest sunshine till warm through before serving – it brings out the sweetness
Dorothy Hartley, Food
Preparing and Cooking Gooseberries
Whether you are picking them or buying them, you need to know
how ripe your gooseberries are. This important because small, vivid green
gooseberries are best for accompanying savoury dishes, and large riper ones are
best made into puddings. I remember as a child, dipping raw, tart gooseberries
straight into the sugar bowl. I expect the Sugar Police would have something to
say about that these days.
To prepare your gooseberries, wash well with and top and
tail them with sharp scissors or pinching fingernails.
If you have lots of gooseberries, you can do several things.
Pop some straight into freezer bags or stew them with sugar, a little water and
a knob of butter and freeze that. I prefer to make jam or vinegar if I’m going
to preserve them. When they cook, they start to lose their colour and if boiled
very thoroughly, like for jam, they attain a lovely deep pink.
Gooseberry compote is very useful; it can be served simply with ice cream for a quick dessert, or baked in the oven as a pie, crumble or cobbler. A classic dessert is gooseberry fool, simply compote folded into lightly whipped, sweetened cream, or even better a mixture of custard and whipped cream.
Other desserts include steamed puddings and a delicious baked pudding rather like an Eve’s pudding: I shall be certainly posting a recipe for that. Old fashioned pies called Oldbury tarts made with hot water pastry used to be very popular. Sometimes the pies were filled with red or whitecurrant jelly, just like an old-fashioned raised pork pie – I bet they would be great served with cheese.
I cannot talk about the culinary potential of gooseberries
without mentioning elderflowers. I love their delicious sweet-musk scent and
add it to anything I possibly can. Back in the days of the restaurant, I made
an excellent elderflower blancmange with gooseberry compote and shortbread
biscuits, and I must say it was one of the best desserts I’ve ever made.
To add an elderflower air to your gooseberry dishes simply
tie up a few heads in muslin before dunking them in your gooseberries or whatever.
In the next few posts, I’ll show you some of the recipes I
have mentioned above, just in case you get a glut of them or spy a punnet in