Five Good Things With Gooseberries

Dieter & Sandra’s gooseberry bush with boutique hen house in the background
Friends Sandra and Dieter have generously offered me their gooseberries.    Harvesting gooseberries is usually a prickly chore but their property on the flank of Harbour Cone on the Otago Peninsula is a magic place to visit and I love this short season tart fruit.

To reach the gooseberries I feel a little like a kiwi Gretel walking through a charming pathway through manuka woods to arrive in a clearing where fruit trees and two lucky hens live in the cutest hen house.

These lucky hens have a sheltered spot with a wonderful view over to the back bays of the Peninsula.   I couldn’t believe one gooseberry bush could have so much fruit.   I got to work accompanied by the cluck of hens and the buzz from a nearby beehive.   What is even better – the gooseberry bush is on a slope so I could easily pick from underneath and avoid those mean prickles.

After gathering a large shopping bag of gooseberries, then its the mundane task of topping and tailing.   Alternatively you can just throw the gooseberries into a bag in the freezer as they freeze free flow and top and tail as you use them throughout the year.   The gooseberries have to be picked green for cooking purposes and for eating leave them to ripen (if the birds don’t beat you).   You can also buy red skinned varieties and these I think are the nicest ones to eat raw.

Gooseberries top and tailed

In my September posting I showed you my sister Kerry’s espaliered gooseberry with the fruits just forming.   Here is a follow up shot of them after one harvest.   This makes picking even easier and the branches were absolutely laden.   I think this is a great way to deal with the prickly gooseberry bush.

Kerry’s espalier gooseberry bush makes picking easy

The Versatile Gooseberry

Here are just some of the things you can make with your harvest:

1.    The Gooseberry Shortcake – this combines the sweetness of the shortcake with the tart bite of the gooseberry.   My Mum used to bribe us into harvesting the prickly gooseberries with the promise of Gooseberry Shortcake.   Mum’s secret tip for a perfect gooseberry cake is to avoid putting any sugar on the gooseberries.   The sugar makes a syrup and the cake goes all soggy. You can find this recipe on my posting September 2012 “Gooseberry Shortcake and Sweet Cicely”

Note:   I converted the imperial measurements Mum used to metric.  When I recently followed the metric recipe I found it did need a little extra flour.   Put in the measurement and then add enough flour to make the dough workable on a floured surface.  It should be a very soft dough but it can’t be that sticky that you find it difficult to gently roll out with the help of a sprinkling of flour.

Gooseberry Shortcake – a real Mackay family favourite
2. Gooseberries cooked with Elder flowers – Elder flower is the perfect partner to gooseberries, giving the gooseberries a subtle muscat flavour.  Gooseberries make a lot of juice when cooked, so use very little water and to give a creamy flavour cook in a knob of butter and no water.   Remember you can reduce the amount of sugar with the addition of the herb Sweet Cicely. To make this into a sweet sauce excellent for going over pancakes – just puree in either a food processor or that wonderful invention the stick mixer. 

Gooseberries cooked with Elder flower blossoms and Sweet Cicely to aid the sweetening

Gooseberries after cooking
3.  Gooseberry Chutney-   I have never used gooseberries as a chutney before so I searched the blogosphere for the best sounding recipe.   I found two that I decided to try.   One included vinegar and spices connected to Christmas, the other was an Indian chutney with no vinegar and Bengali spices.
Spiced Gooseberry Chutney by Chef Heidi Fink

Peter’s preferred chutney was the one with Bengali spices 

Gooseberry chutney with Bengali Spice by the Hungry Tigress

This chutney doesn’t have vinegar and not that much sugar so once open it will probably only last a week or two in the refrigerator.   To keep good until opened, I followed instructions and finished the jars off in the oven making sure there was a good seal.   The Gooseberry Chutney with Bengali Spice was the one chosen by my pickle connoisseur husband Peter as the better of the two.

Both these blogs have excellent ideas so I have supplied the links to the recipes to give you the opportunity to go exploring these blogs over the Christmas holidays.

4.  Gooseberry & Orange Jam – I shared some of my gooseberry bounty with my neighbour Rob and next thing he turns up at my door with a jar of Gooseberry and Orange jam.  He found the recipe in “The Times Cookery Book” by Katie Stewart, published forty years ago in 1972.

Rob’s Gooseberry & Orange Jam with The Times Cookery Book 

 Gooseberry and Orange Jam
Makes 2 kg 700g and takes 1 hour.
1 kg 350g green gooseberries
430 ml water
rind and juice of 2 oranges (Rob used tangelos which gives the jam more tang)
1 kg 600 g granulated sugar
Rinse the gooseberries, and top and tail them.   Place in a large saucepan or preserving pan, and add the water, finely grated orange rind and juice.   Bring slowly to boiling point and simmer gently, squashing the fruit occasionally with a wooden spoon.   When the fruit is quite tender (about 30 minutes) add the sugar.  Stir over low heat until sugar has dissolved.  Bring up to the boil and boil briskly for a set (takes about 10 minutes).   Draw off the heat, skim and then spoon into six clean warm jars.   Cover and seal while hot.

5. Gooseberry & Elder Flower Fool – This is a simple and most delicious way of enjoying the flavours of Gooseberry.    It can be made in a moment if you have already prepared the fruit.   You don’t want it to be too watery.   If you don’t have elder flowers to hand you can simply add some elder flower cordial.

I presented the Gooseberry Fool in a Temuka coffee cup with my New Zealand shortbread
and a sprig of elder flower

You can make a fool with all cream, or a mix of cream and thick yogurt, or with a mix of custard and cream.  Play around with the combination you like the best.   I used two-third cream and one-third yogurt because the fruit is quite tart.  If the fruit was sweeter I would have gone 50/50.
Simply beat up the cream until thick and doesn’t drop off the beater.   Next fold in the yogurt or custard and then the fruit puree.  You can use any fruit for this but tart fruit is best.  Blackcurrant or rhubarb fool is also good.  You need to allow it to chill well before serving.   It’s a lovely dessert to have on a hot summer’s evening.

Glossy, sweet Strawberries from Dieter’s Glasshouse

It’s now towards the end of the gooseberry season here.   The gooseberry is stepping aside for delicious strawberries, currants and raspberries.   Dieter has his strawberries growing in large black pots.   I think this is something I might try because many of my strawberries get eaten or rot if the ground is too wet.   Picking the strawberries hanging over the edge of the pot make for easy and perfect pickings….just like Kerry’s espaliered gooseberries. 

Gooseberry Shortcake and Sweet Cicely

Gooseberry Shortcake was my Mum’s signature cake and a firm family favourite.  I think of the gooseberry as a signature fruit of the South around Christmas.  It’s something we can grow really well in this climate and it has so many delicious uses, both sweet and savoury.

Gooseberry Shortcake – a winning combination of sweet cake
and tart fruit in the mouth

I presented this family treat to book club and everyone loved it, so I am sharing the recipe with my book club friends and anyone lucky enough to have gooseberries.    This was made using last year’s gooseberries – they freeze really well.   You can spend time head and tailing them before freezing but I usually do this when I use them out of the freezer, because who has time to do this around Christmas time?  They should be picked green for cooking.  The red gooseberries are good left to ripen and be eaten raw.

Gooseberry Shortcake

175g butter
175g sugar
2 eggs
dash of vanilla
200g flour
3 Tbsp cornflour
1 heaped tsp of Baking Powder

Put oven on at 150 C.
Beat butter and sugar until pale and creamy (best to use a mixer and keep it going for at least 5 minutes at this stage because if you can get the butter and sugar really pale and light it will make for a lighter texture of cake)
Beat in eggs one at a time and a dash of vanilla.
Gently mix in the shifted dry ingredients to make a dough.   You might have to add more flour, or if it is too stiff then add a little milk.   It is a very soft light dough so rolling out can be tricky until you get used to it.
Divide the dough into two pieces – put down some baking paper on a tray, sprinkle with flour as the dough will be quite sticky and roll out into a circle about the size of a large dinner plate – place the still frozen (or fresh) gooseberries onto the dough as below.

Two parts of the shortcake – gooseberry tails are
 those black specks on the left side
Next roll out the top of the shortcake on another piece of floured baking paper making the top slightly larger than the bottom.  Now comes the tricky part….You have to with confidence flip over the top to place on top of the gooseberries, then gently peel off the paper.  Next crimp the two layers together around the edges and with a fork finish the edge with the lines of the fork.   Prick over the top of the shortcake with a fork and place in the oven to cook long and slow – about 40 minutes at 150 C.   When the cake top is no longer shiny it usually means it’s done.
You can use any other fruit – the key is to avoid putting sugar onto the fruit as this makes the cake soggy.
To serve sieve icing sugar over the top – cut into squares or wedges like a pizza.
This can be an afternoon tea treat or served as a dessert with whipped cream and it successfully fed a crowd of 12 at book club.   It has to be eaten that day because the gooseberries make the cake soggy eventually…unless you like it soggy.
Variation: You can replace a little of the flour with some ground hazelnuts or almonds to add to the texture.

Gooseberries are easy to grow and they tend to be quite expensive to buy.    Perhaps it is because their nasty prickles make picking a chore.   My sister Kerry has come up with a great idea of easy picking with espaliered gooseberry plants.

Top: the gooseberry attractively espaliered, and
below: the tiny new fruits – how easy they will be to pick!

Herb:   Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata)

Sweet Cicely belongs to the parsley and carrot family-
Umbelliferae….so does hemlock.

What a sweet herb this is – you can use sweet cicely when cooking fruit to halve the amount of sugar used and is excellent with tart fruit such as rhubarb and gooseberries.   Chop up the leaves to sweeten up a salad – especially good in a salad with its cousin, the carrot.  But you have to be careful!  It looks similar to its poisonous cousin, hemlock.    Hemlock is a darker green with sometimes blotches of purple on the stems, not a soft green like sweet cicely.  When you crush the leaves of hemlock it smells pungent and unpleasant, whereas sweet cicely has an aromatic aniseed odour.    Once you know it is sweet cicely chew on a flower stem – its like eating those old fashioned aniseed balls.  All parts of the plant including the carrot-like root dug up in autumn are edible.

The soft green leaf of Sweet Cicely
Sweet Cicely is a useful herb for the kitchen and a pretty plant to have as a spring-summer feature in the flower garden. It prefers a semi-shade position with free draining soil.  Here’s a good suggestion…. plant it inbetween rhubarb plants – making it convenient to harvest at the same time as rhubarb for use in the kitchen.  It can grow up to 1 metre high and dies down in winter.  

Herbalist Culpepper says, the roots or the leaves of Sweet Cicely can be made into a herbal tea. It has the reputation of aiding digestion, dealing with flatulence, easing stomach upsets, and may help with menstrual pains. It was used as a protection against the plague.
The seeds can also be chewed to help digestion.  It was one of the herbs used by Benedictine monks to make Chartreuse.
Dried sweet cicely seeds can be used as you would use caraway seeds sprinkled on baking or try in apple pie instead of cloves. For more info Herbs-Treat and Taste

Herbs inspired me to garden.   I started using them for cooking and was rewarded with the flavour improvement in my food.  I wanted to learn how to grow them.  Then I discovered the folklore, the uses our ancestors had for curing themselves of all sorts of ills, and the stories of how people for centuries used these plants.   

For my friend Cecylia, I just had to include in my posting that sweet cicely is associated with St Cecylia and was strewn on church floors to add fragrance.  Cecylia, you will now want to grow this plant not only for its sweet uses but for its name.   I will leave you with a beautiful image of St Cecilia.

A stained glass window in the church at St Gerards Monastery, Wellington – Saint Cecilia, patron saint of music