THIS evening we had compote of gooseberries with elderflower after supper with a few friends — a simple dessert, just stewed gooseberries really, but it blew everyone away.
Most of our friends hadn’t tasted gooseberries for years — they had virtually forgotten about them. The intense flavour sent them into a spin of nostalgia; many called them goosegogs when they were children.
They reminisced about the gooseberry bushes in granny’s garden, picking gooseberries from the prickly bushes, top and tailing them around the kitchen table for gooseberry jam, and the dire warnings not to eat them before they were ripe or “you’d get a pain where you never had a window”.
Wonderful how a flavour brings memories flooding back; one mouthful and I was back in our little vegetable garden in Cullohill, picking tart green berries into an enamel bowl, so hard they sounded like stones against the side of the bowl.
Mummy usually made red gooseberry jam from the riper fruit, but years later I discovered the magic of green gooseberry and elderflower jam from Jane Grigson’s Good Things cookbook published in 1971.
She also introduced me to the magical combination of green gooseberry and elderflower. Ever since, as soon as I see elderflower blossoms in the hedgerows, I know it’s time to dash down the garden to rummage through the prickly branches of the gooseberry bushes to pick the hard green bitter marble sized berries.
It’s difficult to imagine that they are ready to eat but believe me they make the best jams and compotes at this stage and also freeze brilliantly.
If you don’t have a gooseberry bush in your garden, dash out and buy at least one now, better still three. At least one should be Careless. Invicta is another delicious variety which is somewhat resistant to mildew.
Unless you live close to a good country or farmers’ market you are not likely to find fresh gooseberries. Unlike strawberries and raspberries, available ad nauseam year round, fresh gooseberries are rarely to be found on a supermarket shelf.
We grow several varieties of gooseberries; some in bush form. We train others as cordons or in a fan shape along a wall. The latter are a brilliant discovery, easier to pick. Gooseberries are deciduous and the fruit is high in Vitamin C.
Only today, I discovered the origin of the word gooseberry; or spíonán in Irish: Named because they were used to make a sauce for roast goose to cut the richness — can you imagine how delicious that combination would be?
When we were little, we always called gooseberries goosegogs. Crumbles are the quintessential comfort food, this is a brilliant master recipe, just vary the fruit according to the season.
675g green gooseberries
45-55g soft dark brown sugar
1-2 tablespoon water
110g plain white flour, preferably unbleached
50g castor sugar
Elderflower Cream for serving (optional)
1.1L capacity pie dish
First stew the gooseberries gently with the sugar and water in a covered casserole or stainless steel saucepan just until the fruit bursts.
Then taste and add more sugar if necessary. Turn into a pie dish. Allow to cool slightly while you make the crumble.
Rub the butter into the flour just until the mixture resembles really
coarse bread crumbs
, add the sugar. Sprinkle this mixture over the gooseberries in the pie dish. Scatter the flaked almonds evenly over the top.
Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 30-45 minutes or until the topping is cooked and golden. Serve with cream flavoured with elderflower cordial or just softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar.
Variation: Gooseberry and Elderflower
Stew the gooseberries with white sugar, add 2 elderflower heads tied in muslin while stewing, remove elderflowers and proceed as above.
Variations on the Crumble
30g oatflakes or sliced hazelnuts or nibbed almonds can be good added to the crumble.
This is certainly one of the most impressive of the French tarts, it is wonderful served warm but also very good cold and it keeps for several days.
450g (1lb) green gooseberries
150ml (5floz) water
60g (2oz) sugar
200g (7oz) flour
110g (4oz) cold butter
1 egg yolk, preferably free range and organic
3-4 tablespoons cold water
100g (31/2oz) butter
75g (3oz) castor sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 egg yolk, preferably free range
110g (4oz) whole blanched almonds, ground or 1/2 ground almonds and 1/2 blanched and ground
25g (1oz) flour
25g (1oz) flaked almonds
Elderflower Cream (flavour softly whipped cream with elderflower cordial to taste)
23cm (9inch) diameter flan ring or tart tin with a removable base
First make the shortcrust pastry: Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl, cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour with the fingertips. Keep everything as cool as possible; if the fat is allowed to melt the finished pastry may be tough. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop. Whisk the egg yolk and add the water.
To make the stock syrup: Boil sugar and water until all the sugar is dissolved and cool. Stock Syrup can be kept in the refrigerator until needed.
Take a fork or knife (whichever you feel most comfortable with) and add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect the pastry into a ball with your hands. This way you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid.
Although slightly damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven. The drier and more difficult-to-handle pastry will give a crisper shorter crust.
Cover the pastry with greaseproof paper and leave to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 15 minutes or, better still, 30 minutes. This will make the pastry much less elastic and easier to roll.
Meanwhile, top and tail the gooseberries, put into a stainless steel saucepan, barely cover with stock syrup, bring to a boil and simmer until the gooseberries just begin to burst. Cool.
Next make the frangipane: Cream the butter, gradually beat in the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is light and soft. Gradually add the egg and egg yolk, beating well after each addition. Stir in the ground almonds and flour. Spread the frangipane over the top and sprinkle with flaked almonds.
Turn the oven up to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6. Bake the tart for 15 minutes. Turn down the oven heat to moderate 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 and continue cooking for 15-20 minutes or until the fruit is tender and the frangipane is set in the centre and nicely golden.
Serve with Elderflower Cream.
It’s worth growing a gooseberry bush just to make this jam alone.
The gooseberries should be green and tart and hard as hail stones — as soon as the elderflowers are in bloom in the hedgerows search for the gooseberries under the prickly bushes or seek them out in your local greengrocer or Farmers Market.
Makes 6 x 450g (1lb) pots
1.6kg (3½lbs) tart green gooseberries
Freshly squeezed juice of 2 lemons plus enough water to measure 300ml (10fl oz) in total
5-6 elderflower heads
900g (2lbs) sugar
Top and tail the gooseberries and put into a wide stainless steel saucepan or preserving pan with the water and elderflowers tied in muslin. Simmer until the gooseberries burst. Remove the elderflowers and add the warm sugar, stirring until it has completely dissolved. Boil rapidly for about 10 minutes until setting point is reached (220°F on a jam thermometer). Pour into hot clean jars, cover and store in a dry airy cupboard.
This jam should be a fresh green colour, so be careful not to overcook it.
Makes a 22cm (9 inch) diameter round cake
100g (3½oz) sugar plus 20g (¾oz) for the topping
90g (3¼oz) light brown sugar
180g (6¼oz) ground almonds
30g (1¼oz) ground pistachio
45g (1 3/4oz) desiccated coconut
50g (2oz) self-rising flour
A pinch of salt
1 tbsp of Elderflower cordial (optional)
150g (5oz) butter — melted
250g (9oz) gooseberries, halved
1oz pistachio nuts coarsely chopped
Icing sugar to serve
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 (160C fan).
Lightly grease the cake tin with butter.
Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Pour over the melted butter and mix in the eggs, spoon the batter into the pre-greased tin and smooth down.
Drop the halved gooseberries onto the batter and sprinkle the top of the cake with the remaining 20g (3/4oz) of sugar. Bake in the centre of the oven for 30-35 minutes, then turn the cake around and bake for a further 8-10 minutes until the cake between the gooseberries goes all golden.
Allow the cake to cool in the tin, as it needs time to settle, then gently remove by running a knife around the edges. Covered well, it will keep in the fridge for up to a week (not much chance of that happening), but for the best flavour, allow it to return to room temperature before eating. To serve sprinkle with some coarsely chopped pistachio nuts and dredge with a little icing sugar.
Stoneybatter Festival June 21-23
Now in its third year, this hip street festival has a big food element, featuring a farmers’ market, bake off, wine, beer and spirit tastings, panel discussions on sustainability and an outdoor long-table Sunday roast. For more information check out www.stoneybatterfestival.ie
Where do I find fresh gooseberries?
Seek out the Rose Cottage stall at Midleton and Mahon Point Farmers Markets or contact Rose Cottage at www.rosecottagefruitfarm.ie and 021-8732666 for details of local stockists.
Ballymaloe Cookery School Food Truck Café
The Ballymaloe Cookery School Food Truck Café has just opened for the summer season at the Cookery School just outside the village of Shanagarry. Lunch will be made with ingredients from our organic farm, gardens and local producers along with freshly roasted Golden Bean coffee, gorgeous homemade cakes, popsicles, lemonade and kefir. Open Tuesday–Saturday 11am to 5.30pm; tel: 021 4646785 for more details.