Tart and barely sweet at all, gooseberries are part of the genus known as Ribes, whose other family members include black-, red- and whitecurrants. They look wonderful – pale green with what seem like fine veins running through their flesh – and are best cooked, for they are nearly always eye-squintingly sour when served raw. They are beautiful in fools, mousses, jams – and obligatory in a proper summer pudding. A smoky, dark chocolate cake is a less expected use of them, but delicious with the berries' sharpness.
I like to make drinks with gooseberries, too, and if you are so inclined, you can cook them with a little sugar and vinegar and serve them alongside game... though I confess that this isn't to my taste.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, petershamnurseries.com
Rich chocolate cake with gooseberries and candied clementines
The sweet, candied, sticky texture of the clementines completes this dish of rich and sharp contrasts. Serve with plenty of whipped cream or crème fraîche.
Makes 10 slices
325g/11oz unsalted butter
650g/11/4lb good-quality dark chocolate
8 whole eggs
200g/7oz caster sugar
A small pinch of salt
A few drops of lemon juice
Candied clementine peel
Heat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas7 and line a 12in x 2in cake tin with parchment paper. Slice the butter into cubes and break the chocolate into small pieces. Melt together in a bowl over a pan of hot water, making sure that the bowl does not touch the hot water underneath. Once the butter and chocolate have melted, stir together well, remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly. Stir in the eggs one by one, beating after each addition – it may look a little curdled at the beginning but this is nothing to worry about, just keep stirring and it will come together. Pour the mix into the prepared tin and place on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 25 minutes, then remove and allow to cool.
Prepare the gooseberries as per the fool recipe, right, and place in a saucepan with the sugar. Cook for about 10 minutes over a low heat, until the sugar has melted and the gooseberries break up. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool, then squeeze over the lemon juice, add a small pinch of salt, stir to combine and chill in the fridge until ready to serve. Slice a little candied peel and stir through the gooseberries. Serve with slices of the cake.
A good fool is light as air, not too sweet and beautifully clean in taste. It is possible to use any of the soft summer fruits – simply poach in a sugar syrup until the fruit begins to burst and bleed, then gently whip some cream until it is just thick enough to hold the fruit. This combination of strawberries and gooseberries is very nice – the strawberries are not cooked, just barely crushed to allow their lovely flavour to shine through.
4 tbsp icing sugar
1 punnet of strawberries
300ml/10fl oz double cream
Wash and pat dry the gooseberries, then remove any sharp stems and wipe clean using a tea-towel to remove any spiky bits that are sometimes to be found on their outer flesh.
Place in a saucepan along with the icing sugar over a low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fruit begins to soften and gently bursts. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature before placing in the fridge to chill.
Hull the strawberries and place in a bowl. Using a fork, mash the strawberries just until they begin to exude their juice. Place in the fridge to chill. Just before serving, whip the cream very lightly until soft peaks begin to form. Stir through half the gooseberries and strawberries, and spoon into a serving bowl. Spoon the rest of the fruit over the top and return to the fridge to chill for 30 minutes or so before serving.
It is surprising how the vibrant green of raw gooseberries transforms to a lovely pale yellowy-orange once they are cooked and strained. This drink is thick like nectar and needs to be served very well chilled; if you prefer something lighter, simply add a little sparkling or still water before serving. This is best made on the day of serving.
Makes about 6 glasses
1 cup/200g of caster sugar
2 cups/500ml of water
Wash the gooseberries and place in a saucepan with the sugar and water. Place over a medium heat and bring to a simmer. Stir to dissolve the sugar and continue to cook for a further 10 minutes, then simply remove from the heat and pass through a strainer, pressing down firmly with the back of a ladle to push as much of the fruit through as possible. Allow to cool completely before placing in the fridge to chill. Serve in chilled glasses with a sprig of lemon verbena if you happen to have some in your garden, or simply as it is.