The last in a quartet of gooseberry posts – I promise I will change the subject next post.
In my honest, humble opinion this is the best
gooseberry dessert recipe. It’s old-fashioned and simple to make – gooseberries
are baked with a little brown sugar and a knob or two of butter, all covered in
cake sponge. The berries are still very sharp and are perfectly balanced with
the warm, sweet sponge. This is much more superior to the better-known Eve’s
pudding – stewed cooking apples covered in sponge cake. I suspect this would work
excellently with blackcurrants.
This recipe crops up in my traditional English or British cookery books, but I first heard of it from Jane Grigson (as I have many dishes) in her book English Food.
For the pudding, you can make any amount of topping, it’s
dependent upon whether you like a thin or thick layer of sponge and the
dimensions of your baking dish. I used a soufflé dish of diameter around 7
inches/18 centimetres. I think this is a good amount for this size, and for
most family-sized dishes.
The sponge is made using the all-in-one method, so make sure
your butter is extremely soft to ensure a light topping.
Scatter the sugar and dot the butter on the bottom of your
baking dish and cover with the gooseberries; you are aiming for a generous
single layer of them.
Place the butter, flour, caster sugar and eggs in a bowl and
beat together with an electric mixer until the mixture is smooth and
well-combined. Using a large spoon or spatula, add the cake batter in big
spoonfuls over the gooseberries and level it, you don’t have to be very neat
here, the baking batter will flatted itself out.
Place in the oven and bake for around an hour until the top
is a deep golden-brown colour.
Serve immediately with custard or lightly-whipped cream sweetened with a little icing sugar.
I was kindly given part of a large crop of gooseberries by my friends Kit and Ellie, their two bushes have been prolific this year. Earlier in the summer, I used some of their underripe berries to make a sauce to accompany mackerel, but now they were large and quite sweet.
I made the lion’s share of them into gooseberry jam and
thought I would give you a recipe, as it is so easy to make, and you are
unlikely to find it in the shops. If you don’t know of any gooseberry bushes,
try a greengrocer – I have spotted them in quite a few shops this year.
The great thing about gooseberry jam is that the
gooseberries change in colour, adopting an appetising warm pinkish hue with the
intense heat of jam-making. This change is apparently due to the anthocyanins
in the gooseberries interacting with metal ions leached from the cooking vessel
Gooseberries are not as juicy as their red, white and blackcurrant relatives so they need a bit of extra added water to help dissolve the sugar. Gooseberries are high in pectin, especially when young, so there should be enough to set the jam. However, if they are late season and ripe, you might want to replace a small proportion of the sugar with jam sugar, which contains pectin, to give them a helping hand.
The jam I made is simple: gooseberries, sugar and water, but
if you have any of the extras in the ingredients list below, feel free to add
them if you like.
The jam makes a great roly-poly or Victoria sponge filling.
The quantities below makes around 1 litre of jam, and it is
easy to scale up or down depending upon the amount of gooseberries you have to
1 kg gooseberries, washed, topped and tailed
1 kg granulated sugar (or 800 g granulated and 200 g jam
sugar, if the gooseberries are ripe
500 ml water
Optional extras: A dozen elderflower heads wrapped in
muslin, a good bunch of sweet cicely tied with twine or replace 250 ml of the
water with Muscat wine.
Before you start, place a saucer in the freezer.
Place all the ingredients in a large, heavy based saucepan on a medium heat.
Stir occasionally and when all of the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat up to bring the gooseberries to a really good boil. After around 15 minutes – by now they should have a pinkish tinge about them – test to see if you have got a set. Either take the jam’s temperature with a temperature probe and see if it is 105°C, or take a teaspoon of the mixture and place a few drops on your very cold saucer you had stored in the fridge, let it cool for a minute and see if the drops wrinkle when you push them with a finger.
You can use a candy thermometer instead of a probe, but I
find them imprecise. However, if you have a trusty one, by all means slot it
down the inside of jam before you start to boil it.
Leave the jam to cool for 15 minutes and skim any scum with
a large spoon or ladle.
Have some sterilised jars ready and ladle in the jam. A jam
funnel is helpful here. Alternatively, pour the jam into a Pyrex or stainless-steel
jug rinsed out with scalding water and carefully fill your jars. Seal when
still very hot.
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
Hello lovely followers. Just a quickie to let you know that the sister blog to British Food: A History, Neil Cooks Grigson has moved from Blogger to WordPress. It makes much more sense to have them on the same format.
If you’ve never checked it out, now is your chance – there’s over 400 recipes on there, all fully reviewed. There are some amazing ones, and a fair few disasters, warts and all. So if there’s a classic English dish or recipe you’ve always wondered about, chances are I’ve cooked it up.
Last post I wrote all about the mediaeval dish Blanc Mange, an almond and rice stew served with chicken or fish. Obviously, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass to give you a recipe for the dessert blancmange we know and love (or hate).
Blancmange went from a savoury to a sweet dish somewhere
around 1600 – 1604 is the earliest recipe for it I can find that sounds like
the pudding we eat today.
When one thinks of blancmange, a shuddering over-sweet pale
pink mass doused with cloying raspberry flavouring is imagined. This is not a
proper blancmange. When I make one, I go back to basics.
Blancmange should be a simple affair: cream, milk, sugar and
almond extract set with gelatine. In the recipes from earlier than the 20th
Century, the gelatine would have been prepared in house from calves’ feet or
pigs’ trotters. There was an alternative setting agent called isinglass which
is made from the dried swim bladders of fish.
By the way, the pronounced almond flavour of almond extract is not supposed to emulate that of regular almonds, but of bitter almonds which were high in cyanide and therefore used in small, highly aromatic doses. Other things were sometimes added to this basic mixture: lemon zest, cinnamon, brandy and rose water all crop up in recipes through the centuries.
The blancmange went rather downhill once you could buy it in packet form. The almond extract or bitter almonds replaced with almond flavouring and instead of gelatine, cornflour was used. This is the dessert that many people hate. I must confess to quite liking the preparatory blancmange, but then, I’ll eat anything. It shouldn’t be called blancmange though, as it is quite a different beast; fake flavour and thick cornflour base making the final pud less jiggly and delicate. I suppose that after the realisation you could set custard with cornflour instead of egg yolks, the ‘magic’ formula was applied to blancmange.
I like to serve blancmange with a compote of cherries
flavoured with a dash of kirsch and some delicate shortbread biscuits, but it
is pretty good served all on its own. Who needs panna cotta!? If you want to
turn the blancmange out of its mould, it is worth brushing the inside with a
thin layer of sunflower oil so that it is easier to turn it out.
Makes 600 ml:
250 ml whole milk
gelatine leaves (see method)
100 g caster sugar
300ml double cream
1 tsp almond extract
Heat up the milk in a saucepan and as you wait, soak the gelatine leaves in cold water – check the instructions in the packet and use the correct number to set 600 ml except use one leaf fewer than instructed – you want a good wobble.
When the milk is very hot, squeeze out the excess water from
the gelatine and whisk it into the milk along with the sugar. Once dissolved,
add the double cream and almond extract. Pour into your mould or moulds, cover
with cling film or a plate and refrigerate overnight. If you like, you can whip
the cream until floppy and stir it through the milk when it is just warm. This
way you get a mousse-like consistency – good if you want to serve it at a
To turn out the blancmange, dip the moulds in hot water for
around 10 seconds. To make it release you may have to carefully coax the blancmange
from the inside edge of the mould with your finger; if you can move it away
easily, it should come out. Place a serving plate on top and quickly flip it
over – the blancmange should release, if not, simply dip it in the water for a
further 10 seconds.
Once turned out, you may find that some of the blancmange has
melted, so tidy up the plate with a piece of kitchen paper before serving.
I’m carrying on the medieval almond milk theme (I will move away from this topic, I promise) with another post on what could be described as mediaeval England’s national dish – blanc mange. Blanc mange – literally white food – was a simple stew of poultry and rice poached in almond milk. Over the centuries, it evolved into the wobbly dessert we know and love (or hate) today. In France almond soups thickened with rice or bread are still eaten, so it appears that the blanc mange diverged into two different dishes: cold pud and creamy soup.
Blanc mange wasn’t just popular in England, but over the whole of mediaeval Europe. It began life as a Lent dish of rice, almond milk and fish such as pike or lobster, but people liked it so much that it was eaten at every meal, where the fish could be substituted with chicken or capon. Outside of Lent it could be flavoured with spices such as saffron, ginger, cinnamon and galangal, seasoned with verjuice, sugar and salt. It is thought that the dish originates from the Middle East, the part of the world we imported rice and almonds.
It’s worth mentioning that although a Lent dish, no commoner
could afford this meal even in its most basic form– imported rice and almonds
were very expensive, as were farmed chickens. This was commonplace food for the
richer folk of society.
Here’s an example of a blanc mange recipe from around 1430:
For to make blomanger. Nym rys & lese hem & washe
hem clene, & do þereto god almande mylke & seþ
hem tyl þey al tobrest; & þan lat hem kele. & nym þe lyre of
þe hennyn or of capouns & grynd hem small; kest þereto wite grese &
boyle it. Nym blanchyd almandys & safroun & set hem aboue in þe dysche
& serue yt forþe.
This recipe seems to be for a blanc mange served cold or warm;
the rice is cooked in the almond milk and cooled while the capon or chicken is poached
separately. Saffron and almonds are sprinkled over the dish before serving.
I’ve looked at a few recipes and they don’t really change over the next two hundred years – always chicken or fish, rice and almond milk and a few mild spices, sometimes served hot, sometimes cold and often adorned with slivered almonds fried in duck or goose fat and a sprinkle of sugar, all before being served forth. They also seem extremely bland with most recipes containing no spices at all. That said, many of our favourite foods are bland: white bread, mashed potatoes, avocados and mayonnaise all belong in the bland club, so bland does not equal bad. In fact, bland food is usually comfort food, and I strongly suspect that this is what is going on here, a bland white food, served at every meal no matter how grand. Blanc mange was mediaeval comfort food, the macaroni cheese of its day!
The blanc mange went from a chicken and rice dish to wobbly
pudding somewhere around 1600 it seems. A 1596 recipe uses capon meat, ginger,
cinnamon and sugar, and is pretty much identical to the recipes from 1400, but
then I find in Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book of 1604 that she gives
instruction for a cold sweet. She describes a moulded dessert set with calves’
foot jelly (i.e. gelatine), almonds, rice flour, rosewater, ginger and cinnamon.
Mediaeval Blanc Mange
I’ve combined the methods of several recipes from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The important thing to remember is that mediaeval almond milk would have contained sugar, salt and a little rosewater, so if you want to use the modern shop-bought stuff, you might want to add a little of all three for authenticity. Alternatively, you can have a go at making some yourself.
The spices I went for were ginger and cinnamon, but you can
add white pepper, galingale and saffron too if you like.
The only thing I have done differently to the original
recipes is to leave my chicken on the bone; bones stop the chicken drying out
in the cooking process and flavour the dish.
1 chicken jointed into 8 breast pieces, 4 thigh pieces and 2
drumsticks, skin removed
3 tbs duck or goose fat
white rice measured to the 300 ml line of a jug
½ tsp each ground cinnamon and ginger
1 ½ tsp salt
small handful slivered almonds
Demerara sugar and more salt for sprinkling
Pour the almond milk in a saucepan and heat up to almost
boiling. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan melt one tablespoon of the goose or duck
and when hot, tip in the rice. Stir to coat the rice grains in the fat, then
add the spices and salt. Add the chicken pieces and hot almond milk and stir
just once more.
Turn the heat down to low, place on a lid and simmer gently
for 25 minutes.
When the time is almost up, fry the slivered almonds in the
remaining fat until a deep golden-brown colour.
Serve the chicken and rice in deep bowls with the almonds, salt
and sugar sprinkled over.
There you go, pretty easy stuff really. And the verdict?
Well, it was quite bland, but pretty tasty with all of the adornments, and the
flavours developed a lot over night when I reheated some. The sugar wasn’t as
weird tasting as you might expect, and the mild scent of rose water really
lifted the dish. The almonds fried in duck fat were amazing, and I’ll certainly
be stealing that idea. Will I make it again? Probably not, I must admit, but it
was an interesting experiment. Next post, I’ll give you a very easy recipe for
a proper dessert blancmange, one of my favourite things to eat. Until then,