Now we’re in summer, it’s all about the strawberries, raspberries and peaches. But when I was a kid, summer was all about different kinds of fruit which I don’t see very much of now. Actually make that, I don’t see at all!
It’s amazing how the mere mention of the word ‘greengage’ can transport me back to my childhood garden but that’s exactly what happened when someone I know brought up this super tasty fruit I haven’t eaten in… well, a very, very long time! This immediately brought gooseberries to mind, as along with strawberries and grapes, this was another fruit that my parents grew in the garden of the first home we ever lived in. As we grew them at home, greengages and gooseberries were in abundance but even back then, I don’t remember seeing them so readily available commercially.
When we were very young, my sister and I loved picking greengages and gooseberries and scoffing them. We were the kind of kids who definitely preferred chocolates and toffees to fruit – but we loved these and would happily eat them. As this was the first place we’d ever set eyes on either fruit, the mere mention or sight of a greengage or gooseberry soon brings back memories of summers at our old house and our happy childhood… as well as our rather untidy garden!
As the years have gone by, I’ve noticed how increasingly rare these fruits are becoming. I bet most people now would have forgotten what they look and taste like. it’s not sold in the shops and I don’t know anyone who grows them – even though many grow lots of other kinds of fruit. It’s amazing because walk into any supermarket and you’ll have no problem in finding imported exotic fruit such as pineapple, mango, papaya and even dragon fruit. But you’re hardly likely to find greengages or gooseberries. In some ways, I think these have become the exotic fruits!
For those of you haven’t been lucky enough to try greengages, they are a yummy cultivated fruit from the plum family and are green/yellowish-green in colour. Greengages are slightly smaller in size to regular plums and they originated from France (where greengages are known as la bonne reine or Claude reine) and they get their English name from Sir William Gage, who was the first person to import them into England from France. Greengages soon found their way to the American colonies and were grown on plantations belonging to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, although since the eighteenth century, there has been a decline in their cultivation in North America and greengages may be even more scarce there than they are here.
The gooseberry is native to Europe, Africa and Asia, and although you can get smooth-skinned varieties of the fruit, the wild variety – the kind we grew in our garden – tend to have a fuzzy skin. These small, grape sized fruit are related to the blackcurrant and are yellowy-green in colour with a veined effect on the skin, although it is also possible to get reddish coloured gooseberries. The hard and tart variety are best used in cooking especially in making pies, jams and fools – one of my favourite desserts. They had been popular in England since Elizabethan times.
I do hope these fruits make a comeback because they really were delicious and so versatile. I have included recipes for each fruit, which I hope to make… providing I can find the chief ingredients!
GREENGAGE AND HONEY COMPOTE
(recipe from Sainsbury’s magazine)
(makes 3-4 servings):
500g greengages, ripe yet firm
4 tbsp runny honey (any variety)
1 vanilla pod
- Halve the greengages and remove the stones.
- Place in a saucepan with the honey, then heat gently until the honey is liquid.
- Run a knife down the centre of the vanilla pod and add to the fruit, then simmer gently until the fruit starts to release a lot of liquid, and is on the point of collapse. This should take only a couple of minutes.
- Remove from the heat.
- Serve hot or cold, with cream, crème fraiche, ice cream. Also delicious served with cheesecake.
(recipe from bbcgoodfood.com June 2012)
250g gooseberries, topped and tailed
3 tbsp caster sugar
200g Greek yogurt
1-2 tbsp icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
200ml double cream
- Put the gooseberries and sugar in a pan with a splash of water.
- Heat gently while stirring, then bring to a simmer and cook until the fruit starts to burst.
- Squash the gooseberries with a potato masher or fork until pulpy. Cool then chill until cold in the fridge.
- Put the yoghurt in a bowl and beat with the icing sugar and vanilla until smooth.
- Gently whisk in the cream (it will thicken as you whisk so don’t overdo it).
- Ripple through the gooseberry pulp then spoon into pretty glasses or bowls to serve.