It’s been a great year for the gooseberries. Our two bushes – one ‘Hinnonmaki Green’, the other ‘Hinnonmaki Red’ – have produced the largest crops we have ever had from them. Over 6kg from each. These dual purpose culinary and dessert types can be used when immature for cooking in pies, jams, sauces and chutneys, while the fully ripe fruit is sweet enough to be eaten straight from the bush. Originally bred in Finland these cultivars are reliably hardy and resistant to powdery mildew and have cropped reliably for us since we planted them seven years ago. In the case of the red, being thornless they also make for easy picking, unlike the green which bears the familiar needle-like thorns that lacerate your hands, however carefully you go.
Although the first to bear fruit in the vegetable garden, gooseberries have not always been our first fruit of choice for eating. Too many childhood memories of the pale green, seedy pulp floating in a bowl of curdled custard or evaporated milk and the disappointment of Nana’s buttery, sugary, shortcrust giving way to undersweetened (to my child’s palate, at least), sour and watery fruit. Gooseberry fool (gooseberries, Bird’s Custard and cream) was one of the first desserts I was taught to make in ‘O’ Level Home Economics but, by the time it had been carried home in Tupperware on a hot summer bus, it was not the most appetising of puddings and, with fears of an upset stomach, neither I nor the family could bring ourselves to eat it.
The fact that I was making gooseberry fool at school in the ‘80’s suggests that the berries were still to be had at the greengrocers. Not so now, when they must be sought out from specialist suppliers or high end supermarkets or, if you are lucky, like our neighbour Hannah, you know someone who has more than they know what to do with.
As my palate matured I came to love the perfumed sharpness of the fruit, always best balanced by a surfeit of fat, whether cream, butter, custard, sponge, even cheese or mackerel. It is easy to see why they were used historically to accompany pork, bacon, goose and duck, cutting through the fat much like a sharp apple sauce. In some French sauce recipes they are interchangeable with sorrel.
As Nigel Slater says, ‘Batter puddings…are one of the few acceptable hot puddings in summer.’, and with the weather we have been having recently, clafoutis, the quintessential French baked fruit pudding, is a perfect end to dinner on a cold, wet evening. Traditionally made with sour cherries any sharp fruit works well, including blackcurrants, plums and rhubarb.
The most traditional recipe, to be found in Elisabeth Luard’s European Peasant Cookery is, as she says, like Yorkshire pudding with cherries, containing as it does only milk, flour, eggs and scant sugar. Other more contemporary recipes, of which there are a baffling array with the ingredients in any number of varying proportions, still only have sugar in moderation, as it is customary to scatter sugar over the dessert at the end of cooking or before serving. The more recent additions of cream and butter make this a more luxurious dessert than the rustic original, but perhaps better suited to our tastes for pudding and a richer foil for the gooseberries.
The meadowsweet which lines the wet ditch running down to the stream is past its absolute peak, but still has plenty of flower to scent the warmer summer evenings. A perfume completely its own, reminiscent of honey, vanilla, almonds and freshly cut hay. Once used to flavour mead and other sweet wines it makes an unusual cordial (made by the same method as elderflower) or imparts its scent to dairy desserts like ice cream, panna cotta, creme brûlée and custard. Its sweet, grassy flavour complements gooseberries particularly well. If you can’t find it fresh then dried flowers are available online. You can substitute with a scant teaspoon of almond essence.
Clafoutis should be cooked fresh for immediate consumption or, like Yorkshire pudding, it quickly becomes a cold, stodgy slab. Put it in the oven just before you sit down to eat your main course and it will be ready when you have finished.
25g unsalted butter
2 teaspoons caster sugar
150ml single cream
4 heads of fresh meadowsweet flowers or 1 teaspoon dried
3 medium eggs
75g caster sugar, and more for the dish
75g unsalted butter
Icing sugar to serve
Set the oven to 200°C.
Heat the milk and cream in a small pan. Before it boils take off the heat, add the meadowsweet and leave to infuse until cool.
Put the gooseberries in a bowl with two teaspoons of sugar. Shake to coat and leave to stand
Generously butter a shallow ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with two teaspoons of sugar and shake to coat.
Put the 75g of butter in a small pan and heat until it foams, the solids turn nut brown and it smells toasty. Leave to cool.
Strain the cooled milk and cream mixture into a measuring jug and make back up to 300ml if required as the meadowsweet may absorb some liquid. Put into a bowl with the eggs and sugar and beat well. Add the flour and beat again. Then strain in the cooled melted butter and mix again.
Put the gooseberries and their juice into the prepared baking dish. Pour over the batter and bake for 35-45 minutes until puffed and golden and browning at the edges.
For a caramelised crust sprinkle over another couple of teaspoons of sugar for the last 10 minutes of cooking. Alternatively, allow to cool for 10 minutes, then drench with sieved icing sugar. Note that the pudding will sink once removed from the oven.
Serve warm with cold crème fraiche or pouring cream.
Recipe & Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 15 July 2023