When we first planted the garden, I had a rather fine gooseberry bush, well two actually – one red and one green. That was until BOGG (Big Ol’ Grumpy Git) built a bonfire on top of them!
It took until last year to get around to planting up another couple of bushes. Now I’m sure that I had two varieties – again one red and one green, but it looks like they are both the same; hard, tart and spiky, a bit like an old fishwife! Well there were a few choice words from me when I picked the thorny little buggers. I tell you those spikes are bloody sharp, but it doesn’t stop the sodding caterpillars eating the leaves; at least the fruit are safe.
I’ve always called them goosegogs but can’t find where that term comes from. Hey ho! On the other hand, after a bit of research about these hairy bullets (the ones growing in the garden are really hard), I found out that the saying, ‘born under a gooseberry bush’ derives from C19th slang for pubic hair! Who’d have thought it?
Anyway back to my bushes; they aren’t that old so haven’t produced much fruit, consequently there weren’t enough to make a crumble! How to get the most from just a handful of the green hairies? When in doubt, bake a cake! With the addition of elderflower (a well known partner for these fruit), I was pleased with the end result – a moist almondy sponge counteracting the sourness of the gooseberries. With a good dollop of cream, it made a perfect pudding.
You may be lucky enough to get hold of some dessert gooseberries, in which case you won’t have to cook them. Have a wee nibble before you start to determine whether they are taste bud-ripping and in need of sweetness.
I’ve made this cake with lychees (I got two yellow stickered packs for 25p each) mixed with rosewater and dotted with blackberries (also yellow stickered!) – raspberries work even better. Apricots have an affinity with almonds and, with the addition of lavender flowers, makes a fragrant summer cake. Don’t add to much lavender otherwise it will taste like soap; I use about a teaspoon per 8oz of flour, so for this recipe, about 2/3rds would be OK. Rhubarb is another good fruit to use. If it’s tart, follow the recipe for the cooked gooseberries. Rose is an excellent flavouring too.
Gooseberry and Almond Cake
8oz/225g gooseberries*, topped and tailed
4.5oz/125g unsalted butter, softened
5oz/150g caster sugar
3 medium eggs
2.5oz/75g self raising flour, sifted
2.5oz/75g ground almonds
1tblspn elderflower cordial*
*Depending on how tart or sweet your gooseberries are (Ohhh, Matron!), if they are taste bud janglingly sharp, you might want to cook them in the cordial first until they are soft. Cool.
Cream butter and sugar together until soft and creamy.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
Fold in the flour and almonds.
If you have cooked your gooseberries, mix into the batter; if you haven’t, stir in the elderflower cordial.
Scrape into a greased and lined baking tin (9in/23cmx9in/23cm or 8in/20cm round).
If your gooseberries are sweet, scatter them over the batter.
Shove into a preheated oven – 160°C/Fan140°C/Gas4.
Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until a skewer is poked into the cake and it comes out clean.
Leave to cool in the tin.
Serve with cream whipped with a little elderflower cordial.
(C) Lea Harris, In the Kitchen with BakersBunny, 2019