Gooseberries have been grown in Britain since the reign of Henry VIII but reached their peak of popularity in the 19th century. During this time England was mad for gooseberries along with all the pies, puddings and wines that could be made from this amazing, hairy fruit.
Gooseberries prefer a cool, northern climate and thanks to the passion of English gardeners have thrived in places like Lancashire, Cheshire and Scotland. The fruit was so popular in the early 1800’s that many societies were formed to celebrate the diversity of colour, flavour and size. They held shows and competitions to show off the biggest and most flavoursome berries.
Lancashire was renowned for its’ large varieties, the most notable being a red variety called ‘Top Sawyer’. In 1819, one of these enormous berries weighed in at 26dwts 17grs – the size of a hens’ egg! Some competitions are still held today using the same weighing method of pennyweights and grain.
These days, gooseberries (or goosegogs as my Dad calls them) are not so fashionable but are a big part of our English summer and shouldn’t be overlooked. They are just coming into season now and the first small, green fruits are best for cooking. Later in the summer the larger red, yellow or golden varieties will be sweet enough to be eaten raw.
200g unrefined caster sugar
3 good eggs
75g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
About 350g gooseberries topped and tailed
30g flaked almonds
Wait for the butter to come to room temperature and then beat together with about 180g of the caster sugar (you need to keep some aside for later). When the mixture is pale and fluffy, start to mix in the eggs one at a time and if it begins to curdle add a spoonful of the flour. Add the rest of the flour and then the baking powder and ground almonds. Don’t over mix.
Spoon into a buttered, round 20cm cake tin and level off with a knife. You will need a cake tin with a loose bottom or a springform one so that you don’t lose all your flaked almonds when you turn it out.
Next, toss the gooseberries in the sugar that you kept aside and spread them on top of the cake. They will sink during cooking. Bake at 180 degrees for 30 minutes then take out of the oven and sprinkle on the ground almonds. Bake for a further 15 mins or until firm to the touch. If the top of the cake is getting too brown, cover with foil during the last 10 mins cooking time.
To be eaten in the afternoon with a nice cup of tea, or for pudding with cream, mixed with elderflower cordial.