THE fact that gooseberries and elderflowers ripen and blossom at the same time is God’s way of giving us a nudge to use them together: think jams, think granita, think cordials.
But, sticking to the religious theme, there’s another ingredient in your cocktail cabinet which can make this a sort of holy trinity. Gin.
This last couple of days I have been using all three to great effect, taste and, equally to the point, for little expense (I’m assuming you already have the gin).
Gooseberries are a much underrated fruit. They are at their best in a gooseberry fool, which you can read how to make here. I picked a couple of pounds of berries from the bushes on Sheffield’s Ponderosa Park inside half an hour on a lovely sunny day and on my way back to the car stopped at an elderflower bush and snapped off a dozen creamy flower heads the size of saucers.
First I made the cordial. Recipes advise you to pick on a dry day and use within a couple of hours before the perfume fades. But give the blossom a good sniff first as some varieties can smell of cat pee. The best have a vanilla – cream soda aroma.
Recipes also advise you to give the flower heads a good shaking to remove any insects. Now this blog gives it to you straight: you will never get rid of them all. I shook the flowers onto a sheet of white paper and was amazed to see lots of tiny specks. I did it again. More specks. And some of them were moving. Ah well, I could always strain them out.
I boiled up a litre of water, poured it into a pot and stirred in 750g of sugar to dissolve, then dunked in the elderflowers. You also need the juice and pith of three large lemons. If you’re lazy, simply slice them. Stir, cover with a tea towel and leave for 24 hours. Strain well (I did mine through a sieve lined with two layers of muslin). There were a few specks in the cloth but none in the cordial.
Bottle and keep in the fridge. I had some left over so mixed it with a slug of gin (Gordon’s will do), put it in a shallow plastic box to a depth of no more than an inch and freeze. Take it out after about four hours and stir. The alcohol stops it freezing too hard. It makes a lovely snowy white water ice and smells floral.
Finally I made the jam. I had previously washed and topped and tailed the berries. It’s a mind numbing but pleasant occupation so put your brain into neutral. My Marguerite Patten recipe stipulates one pound of berries to one pound of sugar and between three tablespoons to half a pint of water, depending how hard they are. These were hard. As I intended on making gooseberry and elderflower jam I used the elderflower cordial, which is why I made that first. Otherwise throw in a few flower heads (but remember those specks!). There’s enough natural pectin but a squeeze of lemon does not go amiss.
I simmered the berries until soft and only then put in the sugar (otherwise the fruit will not soften). I but kept back two ounces of sugar as there was plenty in the cordial.
Then I gave it a hard boil and five minutes later it had gently set. It made enough for three jars totalling about one and a half pounds.
So there you have it: jam, granita and cordial for half an hour’s picking, a bag of sugar and a couple of lemons. Time now, I think, for a glass of that cordial with some ice . . . and a slug of gin. Breakfast will be toast and jam. Gooseberry, naturally.