I know that I’m usually banging on about seasonal food and so it will seem a little strange to be writing about a fruit that won’t be out till November but bear with me there is a link. Having just returned to the frosty mornings of Gods own from the riots of the UK, got me thinking about the humble Gooseberry. You see the Gooseberry plant needs to have a good frost over the winter in order to produce good fruit in early summer. In the Bay we are lucky to still have a grower in the form of Mamaku Blue across near Rotorua. They are more well known for growing Blueberries and can be found at most of our farmers markets, however they still grow Gooseberries at the moment even if demand isn’t too high. To me this is such a shame as the fruit is so versatile for cooking, as happy with savory as it is with sweet (in France they are traditionally served with oily fish)

In the middle Ages, the acidic juice of wild gooseberries was highly regarded for its medicinal properties in cooling fevers and the old English name, Fea-berry still survives in some provincial dialects. Although the Oxford English Dictionary associates the fruit’s name with the goose with which it was once served as an accompanying sauce. The phrase ‘to play gooseberry’ comes from the days when the fruit was a euphemism for the devil.

The popularity of the fruit in England led to improved, larger and sweeter varieties being bred, some for eating raw as a dessert fruit (usually red or yellow) and others (usually green), which are sour but have a superior flavour when cooked. Gooseberry shows were once popular all over the North of England, but there are now only two left, the most famous of which is the Egton Bridge Show in North Yorkshire, where official records go back to 1800. In 2009 a world record-breaking ‘Woodpecker’ berry was produced, weighing in at 62 grams. As luck would have it our trip coincided with the Egton Show, so I had to go along for a look-see. I wasn’t expecting much from a little village hall in a tiny village in North Yorkshire, so you can imagine my surprise when we arrived to find two television stations and a radio station already there eagerly awaiting the announcement of the grand champion. It’s a serious business this gooseberry growing.

So now to the technical bits, they are available November to January, an average portion of gooseberries contains about a quarter of the daily Vitamin C requirement and fairly good levels of vitamins A, B, fibre, potassium, copper & manganese. Rich in pectin when slightly unripe, they are ideal for sauces, jams, preserves, pickles & jellies and they make an excellent tart sauce for oily fish such as mackerel, poultry or meat. They also make a good filling for crumble, tarts, pies or suet pudding.

Gooseberry Tansy

I love the sense of history and tradition that goes with food – the small village of Egton Bridge, near where I grew up in North Yorkshire, still holds an annual Gooseberry Show which dates back to 1800! Tansies are a type of sweet omelette, originally named after the herb, tansy, which was used in this dish in the 15th century.

Serves 4

25g unsalted butter

200g gooseberries, topped and tailed

Freshly grated zest of 1 orange

3 tbsp sugar

25g breadcrumbs

3 eggs, separated

40ml cream

¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

2 tbsp apricot liqueur

1. Melt the butter in a frying pan and when foaming add the gooseberries and orange zest. Cook gently over a low heat until the fruit begins to soften (about 10 minutes) then add the sugar, mixing well, and cook until the sugar melts and the mixture becomes syrupy.

2. Add just enough breadcrumbs to soak up the syrup and stir.

3. Meanwhile add the egg whites to a clean bowl and whisk into soft peaks.

4. In a separate bowl beat together the egg yolks, cream, nutmeg and liqueur. Slowly add the egg yolk mixture into the gooseberry mixture, stirring slowly.

5. Fold-in the egg whites and continue cooking on very low heat until the mixture sets.

6. If necessary, place the tansy under a low grill or use a blow torch to set the top.

7. Dust with icing sugar, decorate with a few sprigs of mint and serve.

Lets stay local this week and how about a cheeky little number from Mills Reef, Light and refreshing (titillating and tantalizing). Chill down and chill out with a ‘Little Sweetie’.


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