Yikes! I am seriously falling behind in the documentation of the New Stuffs I’ve experienced of late! Believe me, the experimentation has continued apace, but I’m not being terribly diligent about keeping this updated. Just call me Thoroughly Naughty Nin.
After reading about the decline of the humble gooseberry’s fortune, as more and more shoppers abandon it in favour of other, more fashionable fruits, (which begs the question, what fruit IS the hot, must-have accessory in the chicest kitchens this season?!) I decided to add a punnet of them to my basket during the weekly shop. That’s me all over – I can’t help but support the underdog. Also, the blurb on the package promised that they were perfect for me, so I felt doubly compelled to buy them, seeing as I was being addressed by name. Damn these clever ad campaigns.
I kept darting glances at them, wondering just what I should or could do with them other than, of course, my first natural inclination, which was to….well…let me explain.
The pale and interesting Jools, who was the best of my childhood friends, lived in a cottage with a sprawling, English-style garden which was jealously tended by her mother, Mrs. Fazooli. Naturally, it fell upon us to raid that garden at every opportunity, strip it of its mullberries, strawberries, and raspberries, and then blame the missing produce on the neighbourhood lads. (Sorry, Richie.) But there was one crop in Mrs. F.’s bountiful garden which was never under any threat from the little shehooligans that we were, and that was, for obvious and mouth-puckering reasons, the gooseberry. That all changed, however, when it was demonstrated to us just how delightfully the gooseberry squashed. The name of the serpent which bore this knowledge isn’t particularly important. Simply remember, children, that is is always unwise to trust an elder sibling, especially one forcibly recruited to watch over you when there is Something Better to Do, like – oh, I don’t know – a pool party in the offing. When said sibling carelessly plucks a forbidden fruit from the bush, pierces it with one perfectly manicured nail, squishes its contents on your arm, and in wondering, hushed tones marvels how very like bug guts it is, stop your ears and look away, my preciouses. You will only be led astray.
There is no denying the power of suggestion. With the seed planted, The Sib waved airily and retreated to allow her plan to bear fruit. And Jools and I didn’t disappoint. Stopping to examine the berries that had gone ignored for so long, we were amazed at how alien they looked, their ghostly green, translucent skins overtraced by a network of veins. And if you held one up to the light, you could just make out the vague, indeterminate shape of a certain *something* suspended in the centre, clearly being nurtured, clearly up to no good; it was like a bodysnatcher pod in miniature or the chrysalis of some ravenous, otherworldly, flesh-eating insect. So, yes. What else were we to do with the sum total of our accumulated knowledge that day? Humanity will never know or understand the service we did it that summer – Mrs. Fazooli certainly didn’t – as together, Jools and I, like the proto Willow and Buffy team that we were, singlehandedly and barefootedly prevented a global invasion of the embryonic evil preparing to emerge from those gooseberry bushes. Just as we finished off the last wave of the vile enemy, we were discovered. We tried in vain to redirect attention to those pesky, not to mention nimble and lightning-quick, neighbour boys, (Apologies, Chris.) but I’m afraid our juice-stained feet spoke of different culprits.
To this day we don’t know who summoned the adults, but, later from the perspectives of our chambers of banishment, it was with some suspicion that we watched The Sib totter off down the street toward her party, beach towel thrown jauntily over her shoulder. We were just pawns in a much larger game.
Back in the present, I largely resisted the urge to squish the gooseberries (which should not be construed to imply that absolutely no gooseberries were nostalgically harmed in the making of this recipe), choosing rather to incorporate them in a Mark Hix recipe for Gooseberry and Elderflower Fool. Such a lovely name for a pudding, isn’t’ it? As I assembled the ingredients, I thought I understood why it was called this. For me, it conjured up images of carefree, madcap summer days, of happiness and light. With a name like fool, one could also be forgiven for assuming the pudding was quick and easy to prepare. (Note to self: Next time, look for the recipe for Gooseberry Foolproof.)
Things began auspiciously enough. The gooseberries, while they took a great deal longer to thicken than the recipe advertised, shook off their grass green coats and revealed lovely, brick pink interiors. Following the recipe to the letter, I didn’t sieve the compote when it became jam-like, but, since I didn’t fancy chunky swathes of gooseberry skin catching on one’s teeth, I decided to puree it. Mmm. It was tart and sweet; it tasted of sunshine and summer. This was going to be one lovely pudd. I then turned my attention to the cream mixture, and my fortunes promptly nosedived. If ever you attempt this recipe, know only this: the instruction to whip the mixture slowly is SOUND. Solid, even. Pretend that your mixer doesn’t even go to 11. Impatience will cost you dearly – mine ruined my first batch. After whipping the mixture at slowest speed for several minutes with no apparent change in the mix’s consistency, I chose to regard the recipe’s speed limit notification as a mere guideline and cranked up the hand whisk to Ludicrous Speed. In no time at all, I took the cream far, far beyond the required soft peak stage and was rewarded with a mass of curdled cream which floated limply in a pool of unappetising, cloudy liquid. I was so cross with myself, that I even tried to salvage the wreckage by draining off the whey and adding the gooseberry purée to the curd, but in the end, I had to admit defeat. Not even a blindfolded optimist would regard the resultant mixture as anything but fodder for the bin. I contemplated photographing the mess as a cautionary measure, but I just couldn’t bring myself to commit another atrocity upon the deceased.
For my second attempt, I had to use UHT cream from the corner shop as I hadn’t enough fresh cream left from the first batch. I had misgivings about this, but the cream did appear to whip up as nicely as its fresh counterpart. Soft peaks achieved, I added the second batch of strained gooseberry jam to the cream…without allowing enough time for it to cool. As soon as the compote was introduced, the cream trembled, sighed and then collapsed into the now familiar mass of curds and whey. Fortunately, I had had the foresight to buy extra cream for a third attempt, even though at the time, I was hopeful that I wouldn’t be foolish enough to botch a second lot.
On the third and final attempt, I whipped the cream with the swiftness of a speeding glacier and I allowed the gooseberry compote to cool completely. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to strain the jam while it was still molten, and by the time I realised my mistake, it had set. It just snickered at the sieve when I halfheartedly tried to drain it. There were skins and pips and corruption all mingled up in the mix, but at that point I didn’t care. I just wanted a successful bowlful of this allegedly simple pudding. I folded the jam in and wonder of wonders, the cream didn’t collapse. I spooned the mixture into small bowls and put them in the fridge to set for several hours.
When sampled later that day, the chilled fool proved fragrant with elderflower, with a flavour that was lovely and tangy, if a bit sweet. I won”t lie to you, though. The texture was a letdown. It was slightly grainy, perhaps mildly curdled, but lucky Number Three was definitely the best of a bad lot. Was it due to the heat? Was it the UHT rather than fresh cream? Was it the extra stirring required to fold the stone cold, set jam into the cream? Was it related to the principles of magnetism (i.e. opposite poles attract but similar poles repel) ? Unsure, I am. Despite this recipe not going quite to plan, I’m going to keep it on file and try again in better conditions.
Gooseberry and elderflower fool
(adapted from a Mark Hix recipe, June 2003, The Independent)
1 heaping cupful gooseberries
1/3 cup caster sugar
1/8 cup elderflower cordial
1/3 cup white wine (I used a sweet, dessert Muscat.)
1/8 cup elderflower cordial
the juice from 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup double cream
1. Start by preparing the gooseberry compote in order to allow it time to cool. In a medium saucepan, combine all the compote ingredients together and then gently heat until it becomes jam-like. (The original recipe claimed this step took approximately 10 minutes, but since my hob isn’t atomic-powered, it took me a great deal longer; after ten 10 minutes of simmering, my mixture was extremely watery and completely unsuitable for spreading on toast. The best rule of thumb is to stir the mixture frequently and, when it starts to thicken and “catch” on the bottom of the saucepan, it should be ready.) If desired, strain the mixture through a fine, mesh sieve now to remove any skins and pips. Set aside to cool.
2. In a separate, large bowl, mix together the white wine, elderflower cordial, lemon juice and sugar. Stir to help some of the sugar dissolve. Next, add the cream and, using an electric whisk at the lowest speed, whip the mixture slooowly just until soft peaks begin to form. I cannot emphasise this point enough. Slow and steady wins the race here. If you overbeat, you will get fooled.
3. If your gooseberry compote has cooled sufficiently, carefully fold three-quarters of it into the cream mixture. Once combined, spoon your fresh fool into individual glasses or a serving bowl and allow to chill for 1-2 hours. Spoon a dollop of the compote atop or beside your fool to serve.