Elderflowers and Green Gooseberries


I’ve just picked a bowl full of fresh green gooseberries, they’re about the size of hazelnuts, still tart and under ripe but at their best for pies, fools, jams and jellies. It’s difficult to convince people that these hard green berries are so good at this stage, not for nibbling, but for cooking. Try them.

My guide for when they’re ready to pick is when I spy the first of the elderflowers blooming in the hedgerows in late May early June.

Nature has cleverly arranged that gooseberries and elderflowers are in season at the same time of year. The combination of flavours is a marriage made in heaven. All the more mysterious because the white frothy umbelliferous heads of elderflowers made up of hundreds of tiny flowers have a slight musky smell and rather unpleasant taste when fresh, which disappears and instead becomes deliciously muscat flavoured when cooked. Wonder who first discovered the combination of flavours, I first read about it in Jane Grigson’s ‘Good Things’, one of my most treasured cookbooks…

For over 4,000 years, the early summer elderflowers and the elderberries in autumn have been used as medicine, the elder tree was often referred to as the ‘country folks medicine chest’.

Elderflower has many essential vitamins, including vitamins E, B1, B2, and B3 complex and a little vitamin C. It’s known for its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antioxidant properties. All very important.

Elderberries have a whole other set of nutrients and a significant vitamin C content to help protect against winter colds and flu. The substantial amount of fibre helps to prevent constipation but they’re not around until Autumn so let’s enjoy the elderflowers while they last.

Gooseberry bushes are horribly prickly. Picking the berries one by one can be super tedious but I’ve got a brilliant tip for you. Put your hand underneath the base of a branch of gooseberries. Grasp, then run your cupped hand up towards the tip. The leaves and berries will come off together, but the leaves will protect you from the prickles, try it…special thanks to David Cullinane for sharing this tip a few years ago.

Green gooseberries and elderflowers both freeze well. Gooseberries can be frozen just as they are but it’s a good idea to tray freeze the elderflowers first, then store them in layers interleaved with parchment paper in a covered plastic box in the freezer. Try dehydrating them too, they’ll last for months in an airtight jar.

Elderflowers add magic to so many drinks and dishes – elderflower lemonade, syrups, jams, cordials, desserts, cakes, ice cream, popsicles and of course elderflower champagne. The latter is so much fun to make with children. They love how it fizzes up within a couple of days. All the more exciting if you show them how to identify and gather the elderflowers themselves, a gift for life… 

The whole heads are delicious, dipped in a light batter, then sprinkled with caster sugar, a perfect accompaniment to a creamy gooseberry fool.  

For a really fast and super delicious dessert, slice a few new season’s strawberries into a bowl, drizzle with a little elderflower cordial, add a squeeze of lemon juice, scatter with some shredded mint, toss, taste, tweak if necessary and enjoy!

A green gooseberry or green gooseberry and elderflower compote makes a gorgeous accompaniment to a panna cotta or a scoop of good vanilla bean ice cream.

And last but not least, don’t forget that a tart green gooseberry sauce cuts the richness and is delicious served with pork, duck or pan-grilled mackerel.

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.  I love a pat of simple parsley or herb butter melting over the top but I’ve been enjoying them with the first of the green gooseberries – they cut the richness of the mackerel deliciously.

Serves 1 or 2

2-4 fillets of very fresh mackerel (allow 175g fish form main course, 75g for a starter)

seasoned flour

small knob of butter



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 a little bowl of green gooseberry sauce.  Garnish with a sprig of fresh parsley or with some gooseberry leaves if available.

Green Gooseberry Sauce

Use the tart hard green gooseberries on the bushes at the moment, they make a delicious sauce.

275g fresh green gooseberries

approx. 175ml stock syrup to cover made with 110ml of water and 75g of sugar boiled together for 2 minutes

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.

Gooseberry and Elderflower Fool

So simple to make but so good… As the Summer goes on and the gooseberries mature, less sugar is needed for this fool. The base purée freezes well, a terrific standby for a quick dessert another time …

Serves 6 approximately

450g green gooseberries, topped and tailed

3-4 elderflower heads

stock syrup (dissolve 175g granulated sugar in 300ml water, bring to the boil for 2 minutes, cool completely)

To Serve

whipped cream

shortbread biscuits

Barely cover the green gooseberries and the elderflower heads with the stock syrup. Bring to the boil and cook until the fruit bursts, about 5-6 minutes. Liquidise, purée or mash the fruit and syrup and measure.  When the puree has cooled completely, add one third to half of its volume of softly whipped cream according to taste.

Note: If you want to make the fool a little less rich, use less cream, and fold in one stiffly beaten egg white instead.

Jane’s Biscuits – Shortbread Biscuits

My go-to recipe for a quick and delicious biscuit… This recipe was originally in imperial measurements, to get best results, weigh in oz.

Makes 25

6oz white flour or Spelt

4oz butter

2oz caster sugar

Put the flour and sugar into a bowl, rub in the butter as for shortcrust pastry. Gather the mixture together and knead lightly. Roll out to 7mm thick.  Cut into rounds with a 6cm cutter or into heart shapes.  Bake in a moderate oven 180°C/gas mark 4 to pale brown, 8-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the biscuits. Remove and cool on a rack.

Delicious biscuits to nibble but we also serve with fruit fools, compotes and ice creams.

Note: Watch these biscuits really carefully in the oven. Because of the high sugar content, they burn easily. They should be a pale golden – darker will be more bitter.

However, if they are too pale, they will be undercooked and doughy.  Cool on a wire rack.

Elderflower Cake with Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote

If you have a food processor, this can be whizzed up in seconds.  The elderflower syrup will keep for several weeks in your fridge.

350g soft butter

350g caster sugar

4 eggs, preferably free range

350g self-raising flour

Elderflower Syrup

50g caster sugar

150ml water

2 heads of elderflower

zest and juice of one unwaxed lemon

To Serve

Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote (see recipe)

23cm round cake tin

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.

Put the butter, caster sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate. Spread evenly in the well buttered tin. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour approx. or until golden brown and well risen.

Meanwhile make the syrup. 

Put the sugar and water into a saucepan over a medium heat.  Stir until the sugar dissolves, add the elderflowers, bring to the boil for 5 minutes, remove from the heat and add the lemon zest and juice.  Leave aside to cool.  Strain.

As soon as the cake is cooked, pour all or most of the syrup over the top, leave to cool. (See note at end of recipe).

Remove the cake from the tin and serve with Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote and softly whipped cream for dessert.  Decorate with a few fluffy elderflower heads… 

A slice of the cake on its own with a cup of tea is also delicious.

Note: If you are serving the cake on its own, only pour half the syrup over it.

Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote

When I’m driving through country lanes in late May or early June, suddenly I spy the elderflower coming into bloom.  Then I know it’s time to go and search on gooseberry bushes for the hard, green fruit, far too under-ripe at that stage to eat raw, but wonderful cooked in tarts or fools or in this delicious Compote.

Elderflowers have an extraordinary affinity with green gooseberries and by a happy arrangement of nature they are both in season at the same time.

Serves 6-8

900g green gooseberries

2 or 3 elderflower heads

600ml cold water

400g sugar

First top and tail the gooseberries.   Tie 2 or 3 elderflower heads in a little square of muslin, put in a stainless steel or enamelled 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. 

N.B.  The tart green gooseberries must actually burst otherwise the compote of fruit will be too bitter.

Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Jam

It’s worth growing a gooseberry bush just to make this jam alone.

The gooseberries should be green and tart and hard as hailstones – 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 pots

1.6kg tart green gooseberries

5-6 elderflower heads

freshly squeezed juice of 2 lemons

900g sugar

Preheat the oven to 160°C/gas mark 3.

Top and tail the gooseberries and put into a wide stainless steel saucepan or preserving pan with the elderflowers tied in muslin and the lemon juice and enough water to measure 300ml. Simmer until the gooseberries burst.

Warm the sugar in a bowl in the oven for about 10 minutes.

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 (200°C on a jam thermometer) or put a teaspoonful on a cold plate, leave in a cool place for a few minutes, then if the jam wrinkles when pushed with the finger it has reached setting point.  This jam should be a fresh green colour, so be careful not to overcook it.

Pour into hot clean sterilised jars, cover and store in a dry, airy cupboard.

It will keep for 6-12 months but is best enjoyed when it’s fresh.

Elderflower Champagne

This magical recipe transforms perfectly ordinary ingredients into a delicious sparkling drink. The children make it religiously every year and then share the bubbly with their friends.

2 heads of elderflowers

560g sugar

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

4.5 litres water

1 lemon

Remove the peel from the lemon with a swivel top peeler.  Pick the elderflowers in full bloom.  Put into a bowl with the lemon peel, lemon juice, sugar, vinegar and cold water.  Leave for 24 hours, then strain into strong screw top bottles.  Lay them on their sides in a cool place.  After 2 weeks it should be sparkling and ready to drink.  Despite the sparkle this drink is non-alcoholic.

Top Tip

The bottles need to be strong and well-sealed, otherwise the Elderflower champagne will pop its cork.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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