“Take your gooseberries and wash them well, cut off the stalk and the black tip of each. Stew them with sugar till they are tender, just covered in water. Do not let them burn. If you have not time to attend to that put them in the oven in a shallow dish sprinkled with brown sugar. When tender rub them through a fine sieve at least twice. Flavour with a few drops of lemon juice, and add sugar if required. Then beat up a fresh egg in milk and add as much arrowroot or cornflour as will lie flat in a salt spoon. Mix the custard with the gooseberries, pass it through the sieve once more and serve it in a crystal bowl.”
Mrs Brian Luck, The Belgian Cook-Book (1915)
It’s very nearly gooseberry season, and so I’m back on the annual hunt for recipes to help make good use of the anticipated glut. I found the above in a volume called The Belgian Cook-Book. Via the preface to the volume we learn that:
“The recipes in this little book have been sent by Belgian refugees from all parts of the United Kingdom, and it is through the kindness of these correspondents that I have been able to compile it. It is thought, also, that British cooking may benefit by the study of Belgian dishes.”
The 1915 publication date tells us that the refugees in question were fleeing the horrors of the western front in the second year of the First World War. Luckily for us, they brought some of their recipes with them, and said recipes were then sent to and collected by Mrs Brian Luck and the book was published in New York.
Mrs Luck also used the preface to dispense some sage advice to the “work-a-day and inexperienced mistress and maid” of “moderate means”, on the subject of attracting a man:
“It is noticeable that men are attracted to a house where there is good cooking, and the most unapproachable beings are rendered accessible by the pleasantness of a soufllé, or the aroma of a roast duck. You must have observed that a certain number of single men have their hearts very wishful towards their cook. Not infrequently they marry that cook ; but it is less that she is a good and charming woman than that she is a good and charming cook.”
Although, something tells me that Brian Luck wasn’t considered to be much of a marital catch by his wife, who finishes her advice-packed preface with the top tip that:
“…lastly, the good cook must learn about food what every sensible woman learns about love – how to utilize the cold remains.”
Anyway, weren’t be talking about the recipe for ‘Gooseberry Cream Without Cream’? Let’s get back to it.
Mrs Luck tells us to stew the gooseberries and pass them through a sieve – at least twice – to remove the skins and stones. The resulting pulp is then mixed with a cold custard of a single egg beaten in milk (sadly, she doesn’t specify how much milk), along with a tiny spoonful – a ‘salt spoon’ is roughly a quarter the size of a teaspoon (5ml), so the measure required is only 1½ to 2ml at most – of a thickener like arrowroot or cornstarch (cornflour here in the U.K.).
One more pass through a sieve to finish, and it’s into a crystal bowl to serve. Suitably chilled, one would assume.
It all sounds rather lovely to me, although it’s not what I’d call definitively Belgian. The lack of cream is presumably what differentiates this dessert from a classic gooseberry fool, although there are even older gooseberry mush recipes that omit the cream in favour of butter and sugar, such as this one from 1662. Although rationing didn’t apply at the time in either the U.K. or America, this wartime recipe is clearly far more sensibly frugal in its use of just one egg and presumably not much milk, with cornflour to thicken.
What do you think? Does this sound like a cold dessert fit to grace your dinner table? Does it sound particularly Belgian to you? Do you have any other gooseberry recipes that you swear by? Please do let me know, via the comments.