I have amazing memories of visiting “pick-your-own” farms as a child, they seemed to be everywhere, maybe it was because we lived on the edge of The Vale of Evesham, one of England’s prime fruit growing areas. So last weekend, on a fabulously sunny day, I thought Imi and I might have fun picking some gooseberries and strawberries up the road in Cheddar. Sadly we arrived to discover that we could only buy the ready-picked punnets of fruit and a pretty surly woman assured me that there was NOWHERE locally that your could pick your own. Is this true? If anyone knows otherwise, please do let me know. It does seem quite logical, I can’t see how the farmers ever made any money; my sister and I always went for the eat one, keep one, eat one, keep one approach. In fact I once came out in a terrible rash after gorging on strawberries, or maybe it was raspberries? I can’t remember.
Any how we couldn’t drive straight home on such a glorious day so we dropped into one of my all- time favourite places – The Barley Wood Walled Garden (it does pop up in my blog a lot, I promise that I’m not on a PR drive for them – I just happen to love it) First we visited the teeny shop in the shed, I bought some gooseberries and Imi spent her pocket money on a crochet “Happy Bird” that she christened Alfred. I had to share the pictures with you, they are everything I adore about England. The gardens are heaven and I loved the fact that Imi was in a school dress at the weekend ( her primary school doesn’t have a uniform so she feels a bit left out ). Of course we swung by the restaurant as well, and had some of the ridiculously delicious toffee-appley cake (Will you ever share that recipe with us boys? – I notice that it’s not in the cookbook) and whilst Imi drank her elderflower cordial I tried some of the very subtle and refreshing pine cordial.
We headed home after a dash around the vegetable patch – I do have serious garden envy although I need to get real; I only just manage to keep up with the bindweed in our tiny shoebox. When we got home I decided to go two ways with my gooseberries, firstly the most obvious and indulgent gooseberry fool and then secondly a very, very tasty and healthy breakfast option with oat groats and yoghurt.
Let’s begin with the gooseberry fool, which along with rhubarb fool has to be one of the simplest, most divine English puddings on offer and not one to mess around with too much. My only tweaks/suggestions are to cook the gooseberries in elderflower cordial (always a fabulous combination) and to sprinkle with a few ginger nut biscuit crumbs.
450 g gooseberries, topped and tailed
4 tbsp of elderflower cordial
300 ml double cream
A few ginger nut biscuits, crushed to a crumb with a rolling pin.
Cover and simmer the gooseberries with the elderflower cordial for about 5-10 minutes until they have all split. Now spoon out the gooseberries and reduce the liquid by boiling to at least 1/2. Don’t sieve – you want the skins and seeds for texture.
Now taste – it must be intensely sweet and sour at the same time. Allow to cool completely and then chill in the fridge.
Whip your double cream until it is thick but not stiff, it always sets up more as it sits, and fold in the gooseberries. Taste again – you might need a little more sugar.
Now spoon the fool into little glasses or vintage tea cups and sprinkle with a few bashed up ginger nut biscuits if you feel like it.
I’ve never been all that keen on porridge – it’s the rather sludgy, slimy texture. And I’m afraid that no amount of cream, superior pin head oats or expert spurtle stirring can convince me. Oat groats though, are something else with their slightly chewy texture and bite. I prefer to call them oat berries (groats just sound too hefty and wholesome) since whole grain wheat and rye are referred to as berries so I can’t see a problem. Cook up plenty of oats and keep them in the fridge for up to a week but do warm them through in a small pan or microwave before serving, as they seem very starchy when chilled.
Oat berries, gooseberries and honeyed yoghurt
250 g oat berries (groats)
500 g ( ml) water
450 g gooseberries, topped and tailed
4 tbsp elderflower cordial
Natural yoghurt (Greek if you’re feeling indulgent) and honey to taste.
Place the oat berries in a large saucepan without any water and roast them directly over a high heat, giving them a good shake from time to time until they smell toasty (about 3-4 minutes).
Now add the water and simmer for about 30-40 minutes until the grain is tender but still slightly chewy.
Cook the gooseberries as we did for the fool above and spoon into bowls (or glasses). Sprinkle over a couple of good spoons of oats and top with a good dollop of honey-sweetened yoghurt.
And, talking of gardens I’m very excited because later this week I’m going to be working at Highgrove and getting a glimpse of the Prince’s gardens. I’m teaching a bunch of primary school kids who have been awarded a day of cooking, painting and gardening as a prize for their outstanding gardening blogs. There’s more about the Prince’s Mygrove challenge here.