What on earth happened to the Gooseberry, one of the quintessentially British summer fruits? It was a staple of my childhood and used to always be in the shops at this time of the year. But over the last 20 years it has virtually disappeared from all but the larger Waitrose stores and completely from most of the other supermarket shelves. There are now a whole generation of Brits who do not know a fruit that is part of our food heritage and that has so much to offer.
The classic gooseberry is sour and needs to be cooked with sugar classically in a crumble. The little jewels then burst in your mouth with a wonderful mix of sweet and sharp. There are varieties that are sweet in their own right and can be eaten on their own though I haven’t had one myself. They can be made into crumbles, creamy fools, jam, ice cream, compotes, chutney and at one classy restaurant in London I even had a gooseberry soufflé which still sticks in the mind.
So what has gone wrong? Well this is not a very commercial fruit. It has a terribly short season of little more 3 weeks, can only be grown in season and has a very small supermarket shelf life. In this age of the perfect produce on the supermarket shelf, this little beauty stood little chance against the more common raspberry and blueberry which is all conquering. As a consequence commercial growers have torn up their fields because the crop returns are so bad accelerating the serial of decline to where we are now.
If you want a gooseberry these days you need to grow your own or find a friend who does. I planted 2 bushes 3 years ago and finally they are delivering a crop, albeit not that great as the hubby has consigned a less than auspicious space for the bushes where they don’t get enough sun.
700g was the sum total of quality fruit – enough for one jam jar or a small crumble , so I needed to look for another alternative and Mr Google came up trumps with this gorgeous cake. It is a classic flour and almond sponge, so beloved of Middle Eastern bakers and perfect for soaking in syrup – in this case a lemon and thyme syrup. The gooseberries are thrown across the top of the batter cooking inside the cake and adding a wonderful tart contrast to the sweetness of the cake itself. I reduced the sugar in the recommended recipe (by accident) and it worked a treat.
Is it tricky? Well not really. Is it tasty ? Well certainly. It was served as a pudding with creme fraiche and then featured a few times during the week on its own after supper (goodbye waistline). The regret? Well I now need to wait until next year to do this again once my bushes have provided more fruit, but I plan to replay it as soon as I can.
For a 26cm cake (my new favourite cake size)
- 210g golden caster sugar
- 210g butter
- 3 1/2 tsp thyme leaves
- zest of 2 lemons
- 5 large eggs
- 125g plain flour
- 125 g ground almonds
- 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 585g gooseberries
For a 20cm cake
- 125g golden caster sugar
- 125g butter
- 2 tsp thyme leaves
- zest of 1 lemon
- 3 large eggs
- 75g plain flour
- 75 g ground almonds
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 350g gooseberries
For the syrup
- juice of 3 lemons (2 for smaller cake)
- 6 tbsp sugar (4 for smaller cake)
- 2 tsp the leave (1 for smaller cake)
- heat the oven to 190C (170C fan)
- line a cake tin (according to the size you wish) with baking parchment
- top and tail your gooseberries (that involves plucking off the small tail and fibrous top of the fruit with your fingers – tedious but essential)
- beat the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy
- sift the flour and baking powder together
- add the eggs to the butter and sugar one at a time adding a spoonful of flour each time to prevent curdling
- put the thyme and lemon zest in a pestle and mortar and grind together, then mix into the cake batter
- fold in the flour and almonds
- pour into your cake tin and level the mixture with a spatula
- toss the gooseberries in 2 tbsp of sugar and scatter the gooseberries on the top of the cake
- press the gooseberries into the mixture slightly
- bake in the oven until a skewer comes out clean
- 45 minutes for the 26cm cake
- 30 minutes for the 20cm cake
- allow to cool slightly in the tin
The syrup and basting the cake
- put the sugar, lemon and thyme leaves in a pan and bring to the boil and boil for 2 minutes until slightly syrupy
- take the cake out of the tin and place on your serving dish
- prick the cake all over with toothpicks
- spoon the syrup all over the cake
Serve on its own or with creme fraiche!