Food & Drink: Jo Singer plays the gooseberry…

 

Gooseberry-spring

“Translucent green, veiny, spiky balls were growing everywhere in the bushes…”

I was only five when I saw my first gooseberry. The school had taken us on a day trip to a farm (where did they find this farm? – the school was in Plumstead) for a bit of P.Y.O.

Everyone, typically, headed straight for the early strawberries. But I was fascinated with the gooseberries.

Translucent green, veiny, spiky balls were growing everywhere in the bushes. I hadn’t seen anything like it before. But it was the 80s. And if you couldn’t pick it, pop it or dip it, we didn’t have it.

So I filled my bag to the brim. Convinced that my mother, the queen of Lean Cuisine, would not only be thrilled, but would be able to rustle up something delicious that very moment with them. I could barely contain myself for the rest of the day.

It wasn’t to be though. At home time, when we came to retrieve our bags of fruit and veg, mine had gone. Some other little urchin obviously decided my gooseberries looked far more appetising than what they had picked and stole them away. I refused to go home until the teachers found them, but eventually admitted defeated, and rather glumly accepted an abandoned bag with a dirty, lone carrot and a couple of new potatoes in it as some sort of compensation.

I handed the bag to my mother when we got home. Bemused, she offered a ‘maybe we can make some sort of stew out of it?’ But it wasn’t good enough. They weren’t my gooseberries. I was gutted. And I went to bed.

It was over 20 years before I saw a gooseberry again.

Ok, you’ve got me. If that’s the case, perhaps I didn’t try too hard. Hormones may have eventually kicked in and finding alcohol, narcotics and someone to shag me may have been slightly more important than finding gooseberries. Maybe I got over it a bit easier than my opening scene made out, getting straight out of bed after the day after and happily going back to my Findus Crispy Pancakes and Angel Delight. The point is, you never see them do you? Certainly not in the supermarkets.

It wasn’t until I took my own children to a PYO farm in Sittingbourne that I saw them again. In a burst of excitement, I bought a shed load and set to work that night.

First on the menu was a Simple Gooseberry Compote, dead easy, all it took was:

  • 400g gooseberries

  • 6tbsp caster sugar

  • Squeeze of lemon juice

Top and tail the fruit. Heat everything together until the sugar dissolves, and heat for three minutes until the fruits stewed, but not too mushy, and cool.

The compote lasted for a good few days in the fridge. And I’ve been slinging that gloop on everything. The best combos seemed to be whipped cream/ice cream and meringue for a pudding, or on Greek yoghurt for breakfast.

The taste of them, something I was left wondering for all these years, didn’t disappoint. It’s a combination of sweetness, sharpness and citrus. Lots of citrus. They’re an extraordinarily big flavour. Enough to make you catch your breath after the first mouthful, and did more to wake me up then my usual cup of coffee.

Mint_lemonadeAnother recipe I tried was a Gooseberry and Mint Lemonade. (More of a cordial really) For those of you who’ve read my other articles in ‘Biscuit’, you’ll know I try not to drink too much alcohol these days. So it’s nice to go to a friends for a BBQ with something more exciting than a bottle of Robinsons to look forward to.

Again, dead simple, you’ll just need:

  • 250g caster or granulated sugar

  • 3 large lemons, plus more to serve

  • 350g gooseberries, topped and tailed, then halved

  • mint leaves from 3 sprigs, plus extra to serve

  • ice and sparkling water, to serve

But a bit more of a method (it’s not going to give you too much of a headache though)

  1. In a large pan, gently melt the sugar in 250ml water. Meanwhile, using a vegetable peeler, pare away a few long strips of lemon zest. Squeeze the juice to give about 100ml.

  2. Add the zest, juice, gooseberries and mint leaves to the pan, and bring to a simmer. Cook for 5-10 mins until the gooseberries are very soft, then mash with a potato masher and leave to cool. Strain through a sieve, pressing the flesh well to extract the juices, then chill thoroughly.

  3. To serve, dilute 4 tbsp of the lemonade base with 100ml sparkling water (or to taste), adding extra ice, lemon and mint.

So that’s me hooked. After all these years I’m not disappointed. I love them. And I’m quite glad I missed my chance all those years ago. I wouldn’t have appreciated them, they’re an adult taste. And I may have been put off for life. I also finally offered some to my mother, after all these years, and she declined. Apparently if you need more sugar than fruit just in order for it to be edible, it doesn’t count as a fruit to her. Probably a valid point. But I’ll carry on. The season for Gooseberries is short, and apparently they get richer and sweeter the later you go into the season. So I’m looking forward to trying a few more recipes while there still here. And if you’re lucky enough to manage to find some, I urge you to give them a go too.

 

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