Until the age of 10 I lived in what many dreamily how recall as the Soviet courtyard. A patch of land often surrounded by several blocks of flats where children played, babushkas gossiped, teenagers made out. Our dvor being in – then – trendy Tallinn and in – now – trendy area of bohemian Kalamaja and so it was full of grass, little wooden storage sheds….and masses and masses of gooseberries bushes.
I have most vivid recollections of lazit za kryzhovnikom – sort of climbing into and around gooseberry bushes, lazily picking them up, plonking them into my mouth, chatting to girlfriends.
We ate until our hands started to bleed, and our bellies ache. Kryzhovnik is certainly a berry that requires effort. But then it was free and – believe it or not – the berries always seemed sweet to me. The sweetness of food gratis? Or what Soviets called nakhalavya ( a funny and poignant article on BBC in Russian).
So far so Russian.
…Funny then how in Britain gooseberry is often referred to as the ultimate English berry. You know, not the tarted up slut of a strawberry, but a berry that is both somewhat down to earth, proper but also tricky (so so sour), prickly and really does grow abundantly in our Northern climate.
Strange then that I find it almost impossible to buy any healthy volumes of gooseberries in London around this time of the year. Yes, one can find little boxes of gooseberries sold on farmers markets, but for me gooseberries are never about consumption in dainty portions. These plumsters only make sense if gorged on.
I cannot remember my mother cooking with gooseberries really. I think the most transformational thing she did was to sprinkle with lots of sugar and let them sit in a bowl for several hours till they become, well, more digestible.
And so how delighted I was to discover lots and lots of these very gooseberries the other day at an event in Sussex about local suppliers (the joys of working for the Soil Association after all). I was explained that at this time of the year gooseberries are mainly suitable for cooking – yes, all those crumbles, jellies – and only later one might eat them au natural. How disagreed (disagreed??) I was!
Well with gasto is how I ate those super sharp gooseberries. I was oohinh and ahhinh whilst trying to get others to eat the berries out of the plastic bags. They would…and then make suuuch faces. Too sharp for me they’ll all say. Woosies, I would say. And they say a gooseberry is the ultimate English berry.
This is a more unusual way of using gooseberries. Especially handy when the tartness makes you face go woosy:)
What you will need:
- 200 gr gooseberries (topped and tailed)
- 150 ml water
- 50 ml oil
- 30-40 ml vinegar (I used white wine, but something milder is better, eg balsamic)
- generous sprinkling of sugar and salt
- 4 potatoes
- 2-3 fillets of cured herring (I normally buy the sweet cured variety from Eastern-European shops, but even rollmops would do, or in fact mackerel)
- 2-3 celery sticks, with leaves finally chopped
- olive oil
- salad leaves, optional
What to do
- To make the dressing:
- poach gooseberries with water for about 10 mins until they almost collapsed
- put into a blender (I keep most of the liquid, maybe just pour out a tbs or so) and puree
- sieve to get rid of the seeds
- mix oil with vinegar and seasoning and slowly trickle into the puree to emulsify
- taste and adjust - you may find more sugar is needed!
- For the salad:
- peel the spuds if need be and boil till they still retain their shape, cool
- slice your herring into uneven cubes, slivers etc
- slice celery diagonally about 1cm thick
- mix all together with chopped celery leaves
- add a bit of oil to moisten the whole thing, taste and adjust salt. herring is salty but you may still need a bit of salt and pepper to balance the over flavour
- ideally serve on a white plate with your gooseberry dressing drizzled liberally.
- ps perfect with G & T.