Gooseberry, Strawberry and Elderflower Eton Mess

Gooseberry and strawberry fool 2

My Granny had a kitchen garden, a big old walled space which I thought was heaven.  I adored it and spent hours there as a child wandering between the rows of vegetables, marvelling at the artichokes taller than me, rubbing my fingers on the fennel fronds to release their aniseed scent.  Inspecting the asparagus, picking baskets of peas and snacking on apples and pears when the mood took me.   It has always been a deep held wish to have such a garden and we moved house last year we were lucky enough to find one tucked away.   Overgrown and wild it was but the bones were there nonetheless and I had visions of recreating my Grandmothers remarkable garden.  Ha!  After a mass of reading and learning, a weekend of rotavating and what feels like endless weeding I have planted and planted.  Seeds have been started off on the kitchen windowsill or in the green house or planted direct, seedlings bought where my own efforts have failed and donations of little vegetable plants and dahlias gratefully received.

I am delighted with it all and spend hours trying to keep up with the weeds (impossible) and planting various rows of salad leaves to follow on from the ones we are eating now (I believe that is what you do…).  My battle with the slugs is another story altogether.  It is considerably harder work than I anticipated but supremely rewarding.  The first spear of asparagus, eating the first herby green salad with a variety of leaves all grown by us.  There are three tiny plums on a new plum tree, pea pods, baby beetroots, courgettes and beans on their way.

The first fruit picked so far have been wild strawberries and some gooseberries which immediately went towards the fool in this pudding.   With local strawberries winking at me and last weeks elderflower cordial to hand I decided to combine these flavours, the very essence of summer.  The tang of the gooseberries along with the sweetness of the strawberries and floral hit of elderflower are a winning combination and a bit of scrunched up meringue adds texture.

Gooseberry, Strawberry and Elderflower Eton Mess

Of course you can just make the gooseberry fool to have on its own in which case I would use 4 tablespoons of sugar as you won’t have any added sweetness from the meringue.  Taste the gooseberry puree before you add though and remember the later in the season the sweeter these berries will be.

400g gooseberries, topped and tailed

3 tablespoons golden caster sugar

300ml double cream

2 tablespoons elderflower cordial

1 punnet of strawberries halved or quartered depending on size

Meringue (as per the recipe for World Cup Meringue Cake, November 2013 but don’t bother with 3 layers, 1 will do or indeed individual meringues as you are going to break them up anyway).

Put the gooseberries in a pan with the sugar and 2 tablespoons of water and simmer gently until completely broken down.  Leave to cool and then add 1 tablespoon of elderflower cordial.  Put the cut strawberries into a bowl, add the other tablespoon of elderflower cordial, turn them gently and leave to macerate while you get on.  Whip the cream until it just holds its shape and then fold into the gooseberry puree.  Break up the meringues and then mix them with the gooseberry fool followed by the strawberries.  This would fill six glasses similar to the ones you see here but I just filled four and we had seconds…..




Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower 5

There is masses of elderflower around at the moment and I mean to make as much cordial as I can before it fades and leaves us for another year.  I have mentioned it before but I just love these seasonal treats – so much more special because of their fleeting presence.   Like the wild garlic which is now long gone from the river bank where it flourished only a month ago and all the other delights about to spring from the garden.   You might be able to buy raspberries year around in the supermarkets but do they ever taste better than when picked and eaten straight from the cane, warm from the sun?  Strawberries which can so often be a let down once liberated from their plastic shop cartons yet which carry that unmistakeable scent and flavour of summer when you find one perfect crimson specimen hiding under the leaves of a plant at your feet.

This cordial is floral, fragrant and delicious.  It has the most extraordinarily true flavour of elderflower and is unbelievably thirst quenching and refreshing.  As you will from the recipe it does contain a fair amount of sugar which I admit makes me wince a bit when I put it into the pan – what with trying to cut down on sugar and all that.  The thing is I like to offer my children squash and don’t think they should be limited to water or milk – after all I have wide range of drinks I can choose from!  What I don’t care for so much is the commercial drinks full of colouring, additives and other unpronounceable ingredients.  I may be conning myself but this just seems a little more natural.   You can reduce the sugar a little, play around and see what level of sweetness you prefer and don’t forget it is going to be highly diluted.

Elderflower Cordial

You need roughly 20 heads of elderflower for this but don’t panic if you can only find, or reach 15 or so,  it will still taste delicious.  Get citric acid from health food shops or the chemist.

20 elderflower heads, shake them gently to release any bugs

750g golden caster sugar

750ml water

50g citric acid

1 lemon, halved

Put the sugar and water into a pan and bring to the boil.  Put the elderflower heads into a large bowl and carefully add the sugar syrup.  Add the citric acid and squeeze in the juice from the lemons and add the halves to the bowl.  Give it all a good mix then cover with a tea towel and leave overnight.  The next day pour it through a sieve into another bowl or wide jug squeezing out the elderflower to get every drop.  Decant into a bottle and keep in the fridge.  Dilute as you would normal cordial with cold fizzy or flat water.  You could of course add it to a cocktail too….