I’m not sure why gooseberries haven’t had quite the same revival and surge of popularity in recent times that rhubarb has, but I totally love them.
Everyone should have a couple of gooseberry and black currant bushes in their garden as well as a few rhubarb stools. They are all perennial so once you’ve chosen good varieties and planted them; they will delight you year after year.
In this article I’ll concentrate on green gooseberries, which although later than usual this year are now perfect for tarts, pie, fools and sauces. By a fortuitous coincidence in nature, elderflowers bloom in the hedgerows all over the country just at the time the green gooseberries are best for cooking – mind you it takes an act of faith to pick the green under ripe berries at present they are still hard as hailstone – surely they can’t palatable and trust me, they make the best desserts and are even more delicious if you add a couple of those elderflowers while they are bubbling away in the pot or oven.
Compote of green gooseberries flavoured with these wild blossoms is delicious alone, with carrageen moss pudding or panna cotta. It’s vital that the berries burst in the elderflower flavoured syrup otherwise they will be too tart, so don’t worry about the appearance, it should look like stewed gooseberries This compote is good served warm with rice pudding or chilled and also lasts in the fridge for a week or more.
Green gooseberry sauce (really just stewed gooseberries) makes a delicious alternative to Bramley apple sauce with roast pork and the combination of grilled mackerel with green gooseberry sauce is a marriage made in heaven.
These tart green gooseberries also make the most delicious jam but there is just a brief window of opportunity to make this each year because the berries swell and sweeten by the day.
The old fashioned gooseberry sponge pudding is as yummy as ever it was; you might want to serve it with a big jug of Birds custard for old times sake but I have to say a drizzle of Jersey cream also makes it into a feast.
The best early variety is Careless but it’s also worth planting a few dessert gooseberries like Invicta, Sulphur and Black Velvet to enjoy when they are plump and ripe in June. Meanwhile rush to your garden or to your local Farmers Market and enjoy the green gooseberries in every way possible while they are in season.
Pan Grilled Mackerel with Green Gooseberry Sauce
This is a master recipe for pan grilling fish.
The simplest and possibly the most delicious way to cook really fresh mackerel. Use the tart hard green gooseberries on the bushes at the moment, they make a delicious sauce.
Serves 1 or 2
2-4 fillets of very fresh mackerel (allow 6 ozs (170g) fish for main course, 3 ozs (85g) for a starter)
small knob of butter
First make the green gooseberry sauce.
Dip the fish fillets in flour which has been seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper. Shake off the excess flour and then spread a little butter with a knife on the flesh side, as though you were buttering a slice of bread rather meanly. When the grill is quite hot but not smoking, place the fish fillets butter side down on the grill; the fish should sizzle as soon as they touch the pan. Turn down the heat slightly and let them cook for 4 or 5 minutes on that side before you turn them over. Continue to cook on the other side until crisp and golden. Serve on a hot plate with some gooseberry sauce.
Green Gooseberry Sauce
10 ozs (285g) fresh green gooseberries
stock syrup to cover (see below) – 6 fl.ozs (175 ml) approx.
a knob of butter (optional)
Top and tail the gooseberries, put into a stainless steel saucepan, barely cover with stock syrup, bring to the boil and simmer until the fruit bursts. Taste. Stir in a small knob of butter if you like but it is very good without it.
4 fl ozs (120ml) water
4 ozs (110g) sugar
Dissolve the sugar in the water and boil together for 2 minutes. Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator until needed. Stock syrup can also be used for sorbets, fruit salads or as a sweetener in homemade lemonades.
Gooseberry Sponge Pudding
1lbs (450g) green gooseberries
1 tablesp. water
3-4 ozs (85-110g) approx. sugar
For the Topping
2 ozs (55g) butter
2 ozs (55g) sugar
1 beaten egg, preferably free range
3 ozs (85g) self raising flour, sieved
1-2 tablesp. milk
1 pie dish 1½ pint (900m) capacity
Set the oven to 200C/400F/regulo 6.
Top and tail the gooseberries and put them in a heavy saucepan with the water and sugar, cover. Stew them gently until just soft, them tip into a buttered pie dish.
Cream the butter until soft, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the beaten egg by degrees and beat well until completely incorporated. Sieve the flour and fold into the butter and egg mixture. Add about 1 tablespoon milk or enough to bring the mixture to dropping consistency. Spread this mixture gently over the apple.
Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until the sponge mixture is firm to the touch in the centre. Sprinkle with castor sugar. Serve warm with home made custard or lightly whipped cream.
This comforting dessert – sometimes called Eve’s Pudding – can also be made with rhubarb, cooking apples or a mixture of blackberry and apples or rhubarb and strawberries.
Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote
When the elderflowers come into bloom, then I know it’s time to pick green gooseberries. They feel as hard as hailstones, but for cooking it’s the perfect time. Enlist the help of little ones to top and tail the elderflowers.
900g (2lb) green gooseberries
2 or 3 elderflower heads
600ml (1 pint) cold water
450g (1lb) sugar
First, top and tail the gooseberries.
Tie the elderflower heads in a little square of muslin, put the bag in a stainless-steel or enameled saucepan, add the sugar and cover with cold water. Bring slowly to the
boil and continue to boil for 2 minutes. Add the gooseberries and simmer just until the fruit bursts. Allow to get cold.
Serve in a pretty bowl and decorate with fresh elderflowers.
Elderflower and Green Gooseberry Jam
Makes 6 x 450g (1 lb) pots
In season: late spring
The gooseberries should be tart and green 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.
1.6kg (3 ½ lb) green gooseberries
5-6 elderflower heads
600ml (1pint) water
1.57kg (3½ lb) sugar
Wash the gooseberries if necessary. Top and tail them and put into a wide stainless steel preserving pan with the water and elderflowers tied in muslin. Simmer until the gooseberries are soft and the contents of the pan are reduced by one third, approx. 2 hour. 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 (220F on a jam thermometer). Pour into hot clean jars, cover and store in a dry airy cupboard.
This jam should be a fresh colour, so be careful not to overcook it.
Gooseberry and Elderflower Fool
Serves 6 approx.
450g (1lb) gooseberries
3-4 elderflower heads, tied in muslin
225g (8ozs) sugar
300ml (1/2 pint) water
As the Summer goes on and the gooseberries mature, less sugar is needed for this fool.
Barely cover the green gooseberries with the elderflower heads tied in muslin with the stock syrup.
Bring to the boil and cook until the fruit bursts, about 5 – 6 minutes.
Liquidise, puree or mash the fruit and syrup and measure. When the puree has cooled completely, add 1/3 – 1/2 of its volume of softly whipped cream according to taste.
If you want to make the fool a little less rich, use less cream, and fold in one stiffly beaten egg white instead.Gooseberry Frangipane Tart with Elderflower Cream
200 g (7 oz) plain flour
100 g (3 1/2 oz) butter
2 tablespoons natural yoghurt or water
400 g (14 oz) gooseberries
2 tablespoons sugar
100 g (3 1/2 oz) ground almonds
50 g (2 ozs) caster sugar
600ml (1 pint) cream
2 tablespoons elderflower cordial
soft brown sugar
8 inch (20.5cm) tart tin
Preheat the oven to 100°C/215°F/Gas Mark 1/4.
Rub the flour and butter together until it resembles bread crumbs. Add the sugar and the beaten egg. Mix until it comes together. Wrap in cling film and chill.
Line an 8 inch (20.5cm) tart tin with 2/3 of the pastry. Bake blind in the preheated oven for 35 minutes. Brush with egg wash (beaten egg with a pinch of salt). Turn up the oven to 175°C/330°F/Gas Mark 3. Add the gooseberries and elderflowers to the tart shell. Sprinkle with the sugar and lemon zest. Roll the leftover pastry and cover the top of the tart. Seal the edges and brush with egg wash – make a hole in the top of the pastry to allow steam to escape. Sprinkle with brown sugar and cook in the preheated oven for 30-45 minutes. Serve with elderflower cream and soft brown sugar.
Pre-heat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/Gas 5.
Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl (or the bowl of your food processor). Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the flour. Either quickly rub the butter into the flour until it resembles damp breadcrumbs or pulse in the food processor. Stir or briefly pulse the yoghurt into the mixture, until the dough seems to want to cling together. Form into a ball; dust with extra flour if it seems too wet, adding a little extra yoghurt or water if it seems too dry. To avoid shrinkage when the pastry is cooked, cover and leave for 30 minutes before rolling. Butter a 20 cm (8 inch) loose-bottomed flan tin and roll out the pastry to fit. Cover with tinfoil and weight it with rice. Bake for 10 minutes, remove the foil and bake for a further 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, top and tail the gooseberries and place in a saucepan with the 2 tablespoons of sugar and not quite enough water to cover. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat immediately and cook for 1 minute. Drain the gooseberries and leave to cool. Blitz the ground almonds, butter and caster sugar in a food processor for 1 minute. Add the eggs and pulse briefly until blended. Arrange the gooseberries in the prebaked pastry case pour over the frangipane and bake until the top is firm, risen and golden, checking after 20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before removing the collar.
To make the elderflower cream.
Add the elderflower cordial to the cream and whisk lightly, should be very softly whipped.
Serve the tart in wedges with a blob of elderflower cream.
Elder Flowers (Sambucus nigra)
The common or black elder grows in profusion around the Irish countryside and is in full bloom at presents. It’s really easy to grow – even a twig pushed into the ground will root. If you have the space, it’s really worth considering so you can have an elderflower tree of your very own. The low growing, bushy tree with it’s greyish-brown bark smells musty and unappealing, but it’s tiny white flower heads, hanging on reddish stems, are transformed on cooking and impart a delicious Muscat-like flavour to syrups, lemonades, cordials, tarts, sorbets, and compotes and more. The fact that elderflower tastes delicious and is so versatile is reason enough to gather it, but it is also known to contain antioxidants and is commonly used in remedies against hay fever, rheumatism and the common cold. The elder tree was traditionally known as the ‘village pharmacy’ and people were reluctant to cut it down. The roots, bark, leaves and berries were all used medicinally and recent studies have shown that elderflowers have the ability to inactivate viruses. We’ve noticed a growing demand for organic elderflowers at our local farmers’ market.
Big excitement at Midleton Farmers Market as today they celebrate their 10th anniversary. Look out for green gooseberries and elderflowers as well as lots of fresh gorgeous local produce, artisan bread, fish, free range pork, farmhouse cheese…Saturdays 9:00am to 1:30pm.
Brown Envelope Seeds are having an open day at their farm in Ardagh, Skibbereen in West Cork on Sunday 6th June with a walk around the farm and a cup of tea. Contact Madeline McKeever 028 38184.
Good reports about O’Carroll’s, beach bar and restaurant in Caherdaniel, Co Kerry. Maria a graduate of the Ballymaloe Cookery School sources most of her ingredients for the restaurant locally. Lobsters, crab, oysters, mussels and lots of fresh fish come from local fishermen. They also serve really good pizzas, make all their own dressings and sauces and bake fresh bread everyday. O’Carroll’s is nestled in a sub tropical cove, with rare wild flowers and plants that don’t occur anywhere else in Ireland. Open Monday to Sunday 11am to 9pm. 0669475151.