“This is not the fruit of instant appeal to the masses like the strawberry, but a fruit of quiet pleasure, something for the few who understand and appreciate its charms,” writes Nigel Slater in Tender. I’d never heard of gooseberries, much less tasted them, before I moved to Ireland, but I’m coming around to their charms. They’re hard, mouth-puckeringly sour little marbles when raw. You wouldn’t want to make the mistake of popping one into your mouth uncooked — biting into a raw gooseberry is about as appealing as gnawing on a raw stick of rhubarb. Gooseberries need to be coaxed along with some sugar to bring out their best.
Gooseberries are native to Europe and favour cool weather, which makes Ireland the perfect place to grow them. Even so, they’re not widely available — you’ll need to track them down at a farm shop, farmers’ market or one of the roadside stands that also usually sells strawberries and new season potatoes. They’re available at the same time elderflowers are blossoming, and like many things that are in season at the same time, gooseberries and elderflower are a good match.
So what can you do with gooseberry and elderflower compote? Spoon it on top of granola or yoghurt for breakfast, use it as a filling for a plain sponge cake, serve it alongside a cheesecake or best of all, stir it into some softly whipped cream to make a gooseberry fool.
Gooseberry and Elderflower Compote
Makes about 250 g (1 cup)
500 g (1 lb 2 oz) gooseberries
50 g (1/4 cup) sugar
50 ml (1/4 cup) water
1 elderflower head or 2 tablespoons elderflower cordial
Wash the gooseberries well, then top and tail them. Place the gooseberries, sugar, water and elderflower in a small pot. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the berries become soft and syrupy. (If you’re using elderflower cordial instead of fresh flowers, stir that in now.) Taste and add more sugar if it’s too tart. Remove the elderflower head and discard, then remove the pot from the heat and allow the compote to cool. Store the compote in an airtight container or a sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.