Browsing the shelves in the supermarket when I first moved to London for grad school, I was entranced by all the names of things unfamiliar: crumpets, double cream, golden syrup, scotch eggs, tinned rice pudding, hot cross buns...I wanted to try it all. My gaze landed upon a little carton that looked like it might be yogurt. It said "Gooseberry Fool." What in the world was a fool? What was a gooseberry? I had to know. Turns out a fool is bit of fluffy dessert goodness that melts in your mouth, creamy and tangy. I still wasn't sure what a gooseberry was, but I assumed it was, well, some kind of berry.
Fast forward a few years (ahem, many years) later, when we first bought our summer house here in Sweden. Peter pounced upon a unassuming looking bush with glee! "Great," he said, plucking some kind of fruit that looked like a strange veiny green marble. He popped it in his mouth and said, "Mmmmm...gooseberries are my favorite." Aha! So that is the elusive gooseberry. Gustaf is also a big fan of the gooseberry and so all of our small crop is eaten every summer straight off the bush.
This summer, Gustaf said to me, "I found a big gooseberry bush. It has big gooserries. A lot of them." I said, "show me." We went to the bush. This was a huge gooseberry bush. The father of gooseberry bushes. It was sporting the most enormous gooseberries that I had ever seen. A few coming close to the size of a ping pong ball. It was beautiful. But there was a catch. Technically, it seemed to be in a field that belonged to noone. But it was very near our neighbor's house. And the only reason why it had been exposed is because the neighbor had mowed a path through the field from their house to the road. Gustaf and I debated. Can we take the berries? We decided to keep an eye on them. Once they were ripe, we would see if the neighbors picked them. Last week, Gustaf reported in, "No one is picking the gooseberries." Something had to be done. I decided to take the initiative. I walked up the path and went right up to my neighbor, Anna, who was standing on the porch and asked her whether she wanted the gooseberries. She said that only her husband liked them and that we should take as much as we wanted! Bingo! She even lifted up the branches to help me pick. Thanks Anna!
I knew immediately what I wanted to make. A fool. This is a dessert with a long pedigree going back the 1500s. Older recipes show it as a type of custard infused with fruit. The modern recipe is a fruit puree folded into whipped cream. Gooseberry is the classic fruit. Its tart sweetness keeps the dessert from being cloying.
I decided to make some meringues to go with it, to add some texture and crunch. I sprinkled the meringues with pistachio, mainly for the pretty green color which would echo the gooseberry.
This is how I did it.
For the meringues:
(Makes about 9 meringues)
4 egg whites
about a cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
small handful pistachios, chopped finely
Beat the eggwhites on the highest speed until they form stiff peaks that do not fall down when you lift up the beaters. Add the vanilla and then gradually add in the sugar. Beat for a few minutes until the grains of sugar dissolve and become almost unnoticable in the eggwhites. The egg whites will become thick and glossy.
Preheat the oven to 100C. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, divide the eggwhite mixture into 9 circle shaped balls. Use a spoon to create some nice swirls in each pile and to pat the pile into a nice rounded shape. Sprinkle the pistachio over each meringue. Bake in the oven for an hour to an hour and a half. If you want them very dry, when they are done, turn off the heat and let them sit in the oven until it cools. You can do this the night before and leave them in the oven overnight.
For the gooseberry fool:
(serves 6 to 8)
about 500 grams of fresh gooseberries
6 tablespoons sugar
300 ml Greek yogurt
300 ml whipping cream
one teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
Make a gooseberry compote by putting the fresh gooseberries (topped and tailed) into a small pot on a medium high heat. Add the sugar and stir. Bring to a boil and cook about 10 minutes, stirring occassionally. The gooseberries will pop and break down, but still have some chunks. Taste and add more sugar if the gooseberries are very sour. Set aside and let cool. The compote will thicken as it cools.
When you are ready to serve, whip the cream to soft peaks. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla and yogurt. Whisk together. Taste to check the sugar. It should just be barely sweet.
Take a bit more than half of the gooseberry compote and stir it into the cream and yogurt mixture. Taste and add more compote, if desired.
To serve, pile a serving of the fool into a bowl. Drizzle with the a spoonful of plain gooseberry compote and serve with a meringue.
If you have any compote leftover, it tastes lovely drizzled on some yogurt and topped with granola for breakfast or as a topping for pancakes or waffles.