I love berries. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries. I can eat them by the handful. Growing up, my insatiable love for berries was satisfied by the copious amounts of blueberries and strawberries, and occasionally blackberries, we picked at u-pick farms in the Hudson valley and by the raspberries my mom grew in our backyard. She also grew a curious little green berry that, until I was well into my 20s, I never, ever, saw anywhere else: the gooseberry. Despite the abundance with which they grew (and despite how much, it seemed, the birds adored them), the gooseberries in our backyard never inspired in me the same kind of love I have for other berries, however. Picking them was tedious, and “topping and tailing” them (or cleaning off the papery pips and stems) was hard work that never seemed quite worth it.
A gooseberry is a hard, tart, often green, sometimes reddish, cousin of the much more familiar currant. If you can find gooseberries near you (perhaps at your local farmers’ market), let me caution you that these berries are usually quite sour, which explains why most popular preparations of them require them to be cooked with a substantial amount of sugar. Not dripping with sweet juice, and too tart to eat out of hand, gooseberries didn’t truly earn my love until I grew up.
Like sour cherries, apricots, little plums, and black currants (some of my favorite fruits that get short shrift in America) gooseberries grow in abundance throughout Europe, especially in central and northern European countries and in England. They were a favorite of both of my grandmothers: my German grandmother, Grandma Margot, loved them in the form of jam, which you can often buy at specialty stores. My Hungarian Grandma, Grandma Rose, so adored them (and had so much trouble finding them) that my grandfather once got up in the early morning hours in order to go to Hunt’s Point Produce Market in the Bronx, the world’s largest wholesale produce market, to buy her an entire flat of the sour little, marble-like fruit. My mother, knowing the fruit was beloved by both her mother and mother-in-law, began growing them in our back yard, along with the raspberry plants she inherited from her mom, and red currants, another sentimental family favorite.
Grandma Rose used gooseberries to make a pudding similar to a classic fool, in which the stewed fruit is lightened with sweetened, whipped egg whites. Not being a huge fan of the egg white version, I went looking for the kind of fool I enjoyed while living in London as a grad student, which is lightened with whipped cream and in some cases flavored with elderflower cordial. The fat of the cream tames the bracing acidity and tannins of the gooseberry and the elderflower brings out the berry’s floral fragrance.
Served cold on a hot summer’s day, it’s a refreshing and sophisticated dessert that would be lovely served after a fresh and simple meal (perhaps out in the garden, not far from where the gooseberries grow). It wouldn't hurt to serve a shortbread cookie alongside.
3 cups green gooseberries, well-washed, with papery tips and stems removed.
1/2 cup granulated sugar (more or less according to the tartness level of your gooseberries).
2 Tablespoons elderflower cordial
Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2/3 cup well-chilled heavy whipping cream
2 Tablespoons confectioners sugar.