My first taste of a gooseberry was during the 1960s in the garden of my friend Sandra's house. The family was English and Sandra's mother, Norah, grew rhubarb as well as the gooseberries.
'Oh Coll-inn, you're a right little perisher sometimes,' Norah would plead with her youngest, Colin, who was a brat of a child. One summery afternoon when Norah had gone to the shops, Sandra and I, both about ten years old, were supposed to be minding him, but we had ventured out into the backyard to snack on ripe gooseberries. After a while, we heard Colin crying and spluttering, and found him inside with a bright red cuisenaire rod shoved up his nostril. The thing was about two centimetres long, but he had managed to push it so high up that we couldn't retrieve it no matter what we did. It didn't help that he was blowing clear snot bubbles from his nose with every cry. When Norah came home, she was furious, and had to whisk the kiddie off to the local GP. It would be several weeks before my bestie and I were allowed to see each other again, thanks to that wee mischief maker.
Whenever I have eaten gooseberries since that day, I think of Sandra and wonder what became of her and her family. I have toyed with the idea of planting a few gooseberry bushes, alongside the Elderflower bush. Being an Englishman, Peter would love them, methinks. His eyes certainly lit up when I showed him this recipe in Gill Meller's new cookbook, titled Gather.
Meller is a head chef, food writer, author, food stylist and cookery teacher, who has worked alongside Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the River Cottage team for some eleven years. Gather, his debut independent cookbook, celebrates simplicity and nature, both in ingredients and cooking styles and showcases 120 recipes inspired by the landscapes in which he lives and works.
A stunning collection of deliciously-different recipes, philosophies and photographs, Gather is a cracker of a cookbook. Meller says that he has always loved the word 'gather'. "It feels hopeful; natural and very human," he writes. "It's a word that embodies many of the simple things we do every day. As people, we gather in one way or another all the time. It's what we do."
Focusing on 'everyday seasonal recipes from our landscapes', the chapters in Gather are divided into landscape categories, with produce sub-categories. As an example, the first chapter is headed 'farm', offering a good selection of recipes based on cheese, milk, pork, mutton and honey. Next is 'seashore' with recipes for crab, oysters, seaweed, wild sea greens and mussels. Garden, orchard, field, woodland, moor, and harbour follow on.
There isn't a single recipe that doesn't capture my interest and whet my appetite. The only thing that might stop me is the more obscure ingredients: squirrel, for instance. That said, among the standout receipts are oysters with sweet cicely and gooseberries; courgette (zucchini) flowers with salt cod; a salad of raw beetroot, curd and rose; grilled sardines with beetroot, cumin and rosemary; apple rye and cider cake; quince tarte Tatin; crackling and damsons; chocolate rye brownies with bay and almonds; grilled scallops with green peppercorns and garlic; cured trout with rhubarb and rose petals; blackberry, saffron and honey drop scones; and roast squirrel with squash, sage and hazelnut; to list just a few. See what I mean by 'deliciously-different'?
I've chosen to showcase this recipe for lemon and gooseberry tart with elderflower fritters because Meller says that he has "made loads of lemon tarts over the years, but none quite as simple as this one". I also adore the concept of elderflower fritters, and can still taste those sunshine-warmed gooseberries plucked from the bush in my friend's back garden all those years ago.
LEMON & GOOSEBERRY TART WITH ELDERFLOWER FRITTERS
1 quantity pastry (see below), rolled out to 3-4mm thick
100g ripe gooseberries, halved
100g fragrant runny honey
juice of a large lemon (about 100ml)
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
8 large egg yolks
50g golden caster sugar
225g unsalted butter, cubed and chilled, plus extra for greasing
For the fritters:
30g plain flour
sunflower oil, for deep frying
8 small elderflower heads
2-3 teaspoons golden caster sugar, for dusting the fritters
icing sugar, for dusting the tart (optional)
[First make the pastry, see below]. Heat your oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and flour an 18-20cm tart tin. Lay the rolled pastry over the tart case, tucking it down into the corners (you'll have a little overhand). Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes, then remove from the fridge and line the case with baking parchment and baking beans. Place in the oven for 20 minutes, then take out the beans and parchment and blind bake the case for a further 10-15 minutes, until crisp and golden. Remove from the oven and trim around the edges to neaten.
To make the curd, place the gooseberries in a pan with 2-3 tablespoons water, over a medium heat. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 6-7 minutes, stirring regularly until the gooseberries are tender. Remove from the heat and pass the gooseberries through a sieve into a large heatproof bowl. Add the honey, lemon juice and zest, egg yolks and sugar. Whisk to combine.
Place the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir continuously and when the mixture has thickened and is hot, drop in the butter, a few cubes at a time, stirring to encourage it to melt. When you've incorporated all the butter, cook for 2-3 minutes, stir, then remove the bowl from the pan. Turn off the heat. Strain the curd through a sieve into a large bowl, then pour it into the tart case. Refrigerate for 6-8 hours, until set.
To make the fritters, combine the flour and cornflour with 3 tablespoons of water, and whisk until smooth. Fill a medium saucepan 5cm deep with sunflower oil. Place the oil over a high heat, then drip in a few drops of batter - if they fizz the oil is frying-hot. Dip the elderflower heads into the batter, shake them, then lower them one at a time into the oil. Fry each for 1 minute, or until crisp. Dust the fritters with caster sugar and serve on top of the tart, with a final dusting of icing sugar, if you wish. Serves 8.
TO MAKE THE PASTRY:
90g icing sugar
340g plain flour
170g butter, cubed and chilled, plus extra for greasing
2 tablespoons iced water
Combine the icing sugar and plain flour in a medium bowl. Rub in the chilled butter cubes until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs (you can also do this in a food processor). Add in the egg and iced water, and stir through to combine. Tip out the dough and bring it together with your hands, kneading lightly to achieve a smooth finish. Wrap the pastry tightly in cling fling and place it in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes. [Roll it out on a lightly floured surface when you are ready to make the tart].
Gather by Gill Meller, published by Quadrille Books, $49.99. A note of thanks to the publicity team at Hardie Grant Books for giving me the opportunity to showcase this beautiful book. The recipe, cover image and photograph from page 110 appear courtesy of the publisher. Image of gooseberries used under Creative Commons.
Your turn dear readers, do you grow gooseberries? Have you ever cooked with them? And do you happen to remember cuisenaire rods from school days?
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.