Growing and eating gooseberries

Growing soft fruit, like raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries in your own garden is a wonderful thing – it’s not too complicated, the results are delicious, there are savings to be had after a bit of initial investment and you have a wonderful supply of delicious fruits that aren’t always easily available.

We absolutely love gooseberries, but they are, sadly, very hard to find in the shops, so it was a no-brainer to start buying gooseberry bushes a few years back. If you’d like to have a go at growing gooseberries, here are some hints and tips.

Growing and eating delicious gooseberries - some hints, tips and ideas on growing and eating this delicious soft fruit, with recipes too

Not just the green hairy ones…

If you have rather unpleasant memories of rock hard, very sour and rather hairy fruit, growing on super-spiky branches, think again. There is more than one type of gooseberry. Pax (which has very few thorns) and Hinnonmaki Red are both dessert gooseberries that you can eat straight from the bush (they’re obviously great to make jam, preserves, crumbles, pies etc.). These are the ones that we grow – they are just beginning to ripen into beautiful red fruits, after the lovely sunny weather we have had.

Hinnonmaki red gooseberries beginning to ripen - click through for hints and tips on growing and eating delicious gooseberries

But we love the green ones too, and will be buying a couple of Invicta bushes in November, mainly because we have recently discovered how absolutely delicious they are paired with strawberries.

A heavenly match – gooseberries and strawberries

We have tried this amazing strawberry and gooseberry crumble recipe and made jam with a brilliant recipe from Eastbourne allotments (I used ordinary sugar rather than jam sugar as specified, and still got an excellent set – it produces a super bright red strawberry jam).

But the pièce de résistance was this recipe for Strawberry and Gooseberry Summer Pudding, which we had for lunch today. We used homegrown strawberries too.

Strawberries and gooseberries make a great combination for delicious desserts - click through for hints on growing and cooking gooseberries.

Because we have a glut of strawberries, and probably as much strawberry jam as we can eat in a year already, I have been making and freezing strawberry and gooseberry compote, that I am going to use to make more summer puddings and crumbles later in the  Here’s my quick recipe:

Gooseberry and Strawberry Compote

  • Servings: enough for a 4-person crumble or summer pudding
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 250g of green gooseberries, topped and tailed
  • 150g strawberries, hulled
  • 75g sugar
  • zest of a lemon

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C (Gas 4) whilst you are preparing the fruit.
  2. Wash the prepared fruit and then put it in a baking dish with the sugar and lemon zest.
  3. Bake for 10 minutes, then give the mixture a stir, and back for a further 15-20 minutes, until the gooseberries are soft.

You can double the amounts if you have loads of fruit – but don’t double the lemon zest, just use the same amount.

More gooseberry recipes

I’ve blogged some of gooseberry recipes – here they are:

There’s also this great article in the Daily Telegraph (the only saving grace of the DT is it’s food writing, which is just excellent) with a lovely list of the most delicious looking gooseberry recipes – if that doesn’t tempt you to buy a couple of bushes, I don’t know what will!

General tips for growing gooseberries

Here’s an excellent article at Garden Focusesd about growing gooseberries – it’s so thorough and covers every eventuality, so I won’t go into huge detail here, but just share my experience. We grow our gooseberries in large plastic plant pots (I have repotted into larger pots as the plants have grown), in good quality compost, which works extremely well because it is so flexible in a small garden, and we have such heavy soil (and they have moved house twice!). In the early spring I mulch the bushes, and I feed them monthly with a dilute tomato feed during spring and summer. In the winter I just prune out old branches, damaged branches, and any growth in the centre of the bush to keep the branches well-spaced – this reduces the chance of fungal diseases and makes the berries easier to pick. The other advantage of growing gooseberries in containers is that it makes it easier to defeat the enemy!

Defeating gooseberry pests

In my garden, the gooseberry harvest is always in great peril – threatened by the gooseberry sawfly and wood pigeons… No doubt you will have the same problem!

Gooseberry sawflies

The gooseberry sawfly (here are some pictures at the RHS) lays its eggs in the soil round the base of the bushes, and the caterpillars, when they hatch, climb up through the centre of the bush, eating leaves as they go. And they eat A LOT! They can defoliate a bush in a few days, which although it doesn’t effect the fruit in the current year, will definitely cause a smaller harvest in future years and can eventually kill a bush. You can obviously use pesticides (ugh) or nematodes (a biological control), which I gather are effective, but expensive. The most effective method though, is to pick the caterpillars off the bushes as the start to appear. You need to look at the centre of the bush, on the lower branches first, and just pick and squish (sorry).

Because I read that the sawfly eggs are in the soil round the bush, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I grow my gooseberries in containers, and in the very early spring, I scrape a couple of inches of soil away from the top of the pots (being careful not to damage the roots), and replace it with fresh compost and a mulch. This has massively reduced my sawfly problem – and combined with regular checks for caterpillars, has been very effective.

Birds

Last year’s gooseberry harvest was eaten by a pair of wood pigeons virtually overnight, so this year I invested in a proper fruit cage from Harrod Horticultural. My garden looks a bit like Fort Knox, but I am protecting the gooseberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants from all the winged thieves:

Fruit cage protecting gooseberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants in my vegetable garden

This is the system that I bought – it’s 1.2m high, 1m wide and 3.5m long – it comes complete with netting and ground fixings and cost me just under £90. Worth every penny when I see the sad longing looks on the faces of the wood pigeons, but you can make cages yourself with bamboo and netting, or just throw netting over the top of the bushes. The main thing is to make sure insects can still get in to pollinate the flowers – so the nets do not go over the bushes until the tiny fruits are visible.

I really hope I have tempted you to have a go at growing some delicious gooseberries – it is so satisfying to eat your own home-grown harvest. I’d love to hear your experience of growing other varieties of soft fruit. I have blueberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants too – what works for you?

Review: Good Clean Food by Lily Kunin

Good Clean Food front cover for review

I’m not a huge fan of the concept of ‘clean food’. I’m not gluten-free or dairy-free, and I am sceptical about claims made for the latest trendy ingredients and new diets. I eat meat, fish AND (horrors) sugar, and I am very partial to a piece of home-baked cake (as you know, from all my cake recipes!). So maybe I’m not the best person in the world to be reviewing this book, by Lily Kunin, blogger at Clean Food Dirty City.

On the other hand, I am a big fan of real food (by which I mean unprocessed food without loads of added extras), interesting tasty ingredients, well-written recipes, and meal ideas that put the focus fully on delicious veg, fruit, nuts and seeds, which I am very happy to eat a lot more of. It’s for that reason that I’m really glad that Good Clean Food (published by Abrams) has come into my life, because it ticks all those boxes.

The photography, by Gemma and Andrew Ingalls, makes everything look incredibly appetizing, as does the styling by Carol Cotner Thompson, as you can see:

Good Clean Food review dip

All the recipes I have made and eaten from the book so far have been delicious and have worked really well, something that I appreciate very much – so many recipe books I have used in recent years seem really under-tested.

Good Clean Food review Med feast

It’s thanks to Kunin that I have finally conquered the holy grail of falafel that don’t disintegrate or taste like chick-pea mush. I’ve made her recipe twice now, and been delighted with the results. The measurements in the all instructions, where applicable, are given in grams and cups, so it’s really hard to mess up the quantities. There’s great ideas for combining different elements to create feasts like the Mediterranean Mezze above. I made falafel with salads this weekend for friends and they were highly enthusiastic.

The concept of ‘Bowls’ seems to be super-trendy just now, so we, contrary as ever, served Kunin’s ‘Power Bowl’ recipe on plates earlier in the week. I haven’t done a taste-test of salad in bowl versus salad on plate, but I imagine it tastes as good either way.

Good Clean Food review Power Bowl

In her intro to the recipe Kunin talks about wanting to create a bowl that’s bursting with flavour, and this yummy combination of veg, beans and grains with a delicious cashew-nut dressing really does just that. It’s very filling, and because crunching through the veg takes a bit of time, if you are trying to lose weight, it’s a very satisfying eating experience too.

Good Clean Food review Winter Bowl
We haven’t tried this one yet, but looking forward to giving it a go – the balance of flavours and textures is just the kind of thing I like.

Good Clean Food review chilli

The chilli recipe looks fabulous, as you can see, but the recipe I really wanted to try, as soon as I saw it, was Lentil Tacos with Simple Slaw and Corn Avocado Salsa. It sounded perfect for a fun, tasty meal, to enjoy with friends, using the kind of healthy, spicy food I love to eat. It really didn’t disappoint… I could eat the Salsa on it’s own, it’s so delicious – here’s my version.

Good Clean Food recipe sweetcorn and avocado salsa

It’s so quick to make – just combining some fresh sweetcorn, chopped avocado, red onion, coriander (cilantro) and lime juice. Mmmmm. The whole combination of lentils, salsa and slaw is a crunchy, tasty feast. My friends loved that too!

I confess, although I am glad to know about the nutritional value of the ingredients used, I haven’t read much of the theory behind why some recipes/ingredients fit, for example, into the ‘detox’ category and others in the ‘nourish’ category. I’m only really interested in the quality of the recipes, and, slightly in spite of myself, I am really impressed. So, I’d say, if you are interested in new, very tasty, ways of getting more fruit and veg into your diet, or if you are a vegan or veggie, I’d recommend this book with enthusiasm.

 

Recipe: No-bake Easter Crunch Cake

Easter Chocolate Crunch Cake no-bake

A super-fast recipe just in case you don’t have enough chocolate in your life this weekend. Fun to make with kids too. If you want to make it gluten-free then you can use gluten-free digestives – they work really well.

Easter Crunch Cake no-bake

Easter Crunch Cake

Ingredients

  • 200g 70% chocolate
  • 100g butter
  • 200g digestive biscuits
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 200g mini eggs
  • 50g dried cherries (optional)

Directions

  1. Line a 20cm x 20cm (8inch) baking tray (I use one with a loose bottom which is really helpful when getting the cake out of the tin) with foil or baking parchment – the liner needs to come up the sides of the tin.
  2. Break the chocolate into small pieces and put into a heatproof bowl with the butter. Put the bowl over a pan of water on a very low simmer and stir until the chocolate and butter are melted and the mixture is smooth a glossy. Take the bowl off the pan and leave to cool for a minute or two.
  3. Put the biscuits in a large bowl and smash them up, using the end of a rolling pin. Alternatively put the biscuits in a strong polythene bag, tie closed and bash with a rolling pin. Don’t reduce the biscuits to crumbs, you need smaller and larger pieces.
  4. Stir the syrup and cocoa powder into the melted chocolate, along with the broken biscuits and the 3/4 of the mini eggs and the cherries (if using).
  5. Put the mixture into your prepared baking tray and press down. Sprinkle the remaining mini-eggs over the cake and press them down a little.
  6. Refrigerate for at least an hour, then cut into 12-16 pieces. You will need a very sharp knife, so watch your fingers.
  7. This will keep for up to a week in an airtight tin. I tend to keep it in the fridge so it stays fairly firm.

Happy Easter to you all!