The Gooseberry Fool
Would be me; thinking I could just make some of this classic English dessert, put up the recipe and move on to something gardenly like breeding peonies, growing great basil or one of the many other topics on the tip of my desktop.
Reading up on gooseberry fool – don’t laugh; it turns out to be a much explored subject* – led me into a briar patch of nursery catalogs, from which I have only recently emerged.
You will notice the gooseberry color is a sort of midgrade pink-red, roughly the color of faded brick. This is decidedly unclassic. Recipes differ widely in method, sweetness and dairy component (most of the older ones use custard of some sort, rather than straight cream). But all of them call for green gooseberries and usually that’s green as in unripe.
Ripe gooseberries may be yellowish green, or yellow or red or almost purple and they can be delicious – as long as they remain uncooked. Unfortunately, even the best of them turns insipid when heat is applied, which may help explain why they haven’t become the hot new (old) thing.
Or it may be the thorns; gooseberry bushes are by nature dauntingly thorny, and the varieties bred to be less prickly tend to be less tasty as well.
But it’s probably the preparation problem. The blossom end has a dry scar and each little stem clings fiercely. The blossom ends, aka tips, aren’t objectionable in the raw fruit, and when you’re eating them out of hand you can simply nibble each little berry away from its taillike stem. But just about every recipe, whether for savory sauce, sweet dessert or preserve starts with the instruction“tip and tail” - as in remove same from each grape sized (or smaller) gooseberry. Not this one.
1 pint gooseberries, green to partially ripe (The ones in the fool in the photo were about half green and half pale pink, still far from their eventual deep wine red.)
scant ½ cup sugar to start, more may be needed
1 c. heavy cream, the heavier the better
1. Combine sugar and berries in a microwavable bowl. (see note) Cover and cook 1 minute at half power. Stir, then give them a minute at full power. Stir again. Uncover and cook in small increments until berries are soft and bursting out of their skins.
2. Put the mixture through a food mill to get pure pulp. Discard detritus. Chill puree thoroughly; it will thicken as it gets cold.
3. Taste pulp. It should be pleasantly sweet-sour. Add sugar to taste if necessary and stir well to dissolve.
4. Whip the cream until it holds firm peaks. Either fold it into the pulp or layer it with same into a glass serving dish or dishes.
4 servings – the glasses in the picture were 2 servings each.
Note: A microwave isn’t traditional but it is an almost foolproof way to soften the fruit without adding any water or heating up the kitchen. If you prefer, combine fruit and sugar in a small covered casserole and bake at 325 until fruit is soft enough to puree.
Because it would be foolish to use the oven any more than necessary when it’s 90 degrees out.
5 oz. crisp, plain chocolate wafer cookies. I used Nabisco Famous (the ones with the whipped cream roll on the box) because I keep them in the freezer as a baking staple, but anything unadorned and unfilled that isn’t super-rich will do.
4 oz. amaretti
6 tbl. melted butter
1 heaping pint raspberries
3 tbl. Cointreau
¼ c. sugar or more to taste
1 ½ – 2c. heavy cream
1. Mix the raspberries with the cointreau and 3 tbl. of the sugar. Let them sit for at least an hour at room temperature, as long as overnight (in the refrigerator). Drain well, reserving the juice, then crush the fruit into a medium sized bowl. Taste. There should be a sharp edge, but if the berry pulp is very sour, add a little more sugar.
2. While the berries are marinating, process the cookies together until reduced to fine crumbs. Or put them in a heavy plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin. Mix in the melted butter and press the (still somewhat crumbly) crumb mixture into a shallow 10 inch pie pan, making a low raised rim. Chill.
3. Whip the cream until it holds soft peaks, add the remaining 1 tbl. of sugar and beat until firm peaks form. Set aside about a third of the cream and gently fold the rest into the raspberries.
5. Turn the raspberry cream into the pie shell, smoothing the top. Carefully dollop on the remaining whipped cream and spread to make a smooth frosting. Chill uncovered for 3 or 4 hours or freeze at once.
Serving: Cut in slices and pass the reserved juice separately. Be warned the refrigerated slices will be a bit slouchy. If you want the neat edges in the picture, freeze the pie solid, cut in slices, then let them warm up in the refrigerator until semi-thawed.
* see especially Elizabeth David’s An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, Jane Grigson’s Good Things and Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book, and Alan Davidson’s The Penguin Companion to Food. Every one of these books is great reading, worth having for reference and living proof you can’t get everything on the internet. So is Elizabeth Schneider’s Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables.
“Of all garden fruits, least attention need be paid to currants and gooseberries in the matter of sites and soils; they will grow in any garden if the climate is suitable.” U.P. Hedrick, Fruits for the Home Garden, 1944.
True, at least in my experience. There are only two important things:
1. You have to have a real winter; gooseberries are a Northern fruit, and
2. You have to be allowed.
Gooseberries come in two main species Ribes hirtellum (small, American and mildew-resistant) and Ribes uva-crispa (large, European and horrendously mildew prone). There are, not surprisingly, many hybrids aimed at combining the best of both worlds.
The catch? Ribes species, including currants and jostaberries as well as gooseberries, are essential to the life cycle of pine blister rust. The rust is a fungus disease that kills white pines, and for a long time federal law forbade planting any of the enabling fruits. That law was repealed in the 1960’s but some states – DE, MA, ME, NC, NH, NJ, RI, WV – or counties within them still have prohibitions of their own. Reputable nurseries will not send plants if you live in one of them.