gooseberrykettle

This summer has officially been one big rain shower.

But, at least we have gooseberries.

And, memories of sunnier days.

Right?

When the weather gets me down, I try to recall my first BBQ in Ireland for a little comic comfort. I wrote a little ditty about it in Irish Country Magazine last year, and thought it would be apropos to share here today, so here goes:

hen

Early on, I figured out that the Irish summer can be quite different from its American counterpart. Practically no matter where you find yourself in the United States during the months of June, July, and August you are basically guaranteed a daily dose of blue skies and a long stretch of strong, bright sun that will warm both your skin and your soul. At least that’s how I prefer to remember it.

If it rained when I was growing up, the pavement would literally steam. And, if you were like me and my childhood friends you would happily rejoice, splash and stomp about in the streets, getting thunderously drenched by those warm showers and simply enjoying the spectacle of it all. We couldn’t get enough of that summer rain because it occurred so rarely during the season.

Precipitation took on a whole new meaning after moving to Ireland. I first learned about “getting on with the weather” when it came to planning a summer party. Until then, the business of partying in the rain was a foreign concept to me.

During my first Irish summer, I tried my hand at hosting a garden BBQ party at the sweet little bolthole that we inhabited in the nearby village of Adare while our home on the farm was being built. This gathering was meant to be my concerted, heartfelt effort to be social and meet people in my newly adapted surroundings.

Naively, I never considered the weather report for the big day. It was summertime, right?

I had spent the entire week planning and preparing what I consider a proper, traditional, American-style BBQ feast: creating a tangy barbecue sauce and spice rub for both chicken and brisket, digging frantically through unpacked boxes to find my tried-and-true recipe for baked macaroni and cheese, ringing round robin to locate various ingredients that didn’t seem to be available at the corner market (sweet corn, watermelon, big fat marshmallows for toasting over hot coals, all of which I soon found out, was seemingly unheard of in these parts at the time), skimming through old Martha magazines for suggestions on being the hostess with the mostest. I wanted the day to be absolutely magnificent; full of fun, folly, fantastic food, and most of all: new friends!

I woke up that Saturday morning only to hear the rain bucketing down. It was worse than anything I had seen on Universal studio lot production shoots. It was coming down in sheets and looked totally unrealistic to me, it was so heavy. I just couldn’t believe my eyes.

I panicked and rang my one and only acquaintance, Yasmin, a friendly, local female expat from England who had ironically spent her years prior to Ireland working in television and film production like me and had also married an Irish farmer ten years earlier. Yasmin essentially (and very generously) created the guest list by inviting all of her family and friends.

When Yas picked up the phone, I cried out in my typical Yankee twang, “Oh my Gawwwd, what am I going to do? No one will come, it’s raining and I’ve made all this food. We must cancel. I am so, SO disappointed.”

Her response cut right through my sobbing with a calm and clever giggle followed by, “Imen, we get on with it here in Ireland. We just get on with it. Put up a tent or marquis if you feel the need. Everyone will come, you’ll see.”

Honestly, I wasn’t going for it. I thought to myself, why would anyone want to come to an outdoor BBQ party in the rain? Call me a fair weather friend, but I’m pretty sure I would have bailed on that party.

Ultimately, yet oh-so-shockingly to me, she was dead right. Every single guest showed up. And, we all milled around the garden in the cool (okay, cold!) lashing rain, eating smoky, spicy American-style bbq’d chicken, southern-style baked macaroni and cheese, beautiful fruit and salads, while happily sipping cider and shivering under a tent.

My father-in-law suited up in his rain slicker and graciously stepped in as rookie grill master, valiantly manning the bbq cooker, which was strategically placed underneath the awning of the house. My husband organized a game of spoon and egg with the children. I just kept feeding everyone with a big smile and a brolly in hand. “What’s a little rain?” seemed to be the theme of the day.

Nobody flinched. I was literally in awe of this extravaganza. To me, the idea that people would carry on like normal while it poured rain was bold and magnificent, and, well, a bit mad.

That day, that rain, those people, moved me. And, if I’m honest, it just might be the moment I fell a little more in love with Ireland.

hen

Once we moved to the farm, I found out that nothing says Irish summer like gooseberries. Geoffrey and I picked the gooseberries on the ONE sunny afternoon we had last week, and ever since then I have been experimenting with combinations and flavour blends. I hay-smoked and carmelised some of our pickings which made for a lovely compote to accompany sausages and cider gravy; and was also splendid blended into ice cream. Right now I have a pint of gooseberry sherbet on the go in the freezer (fingers crossed it’s lovely!). Still, aren’t the classics just always the best?

gooseberrypicking tartoverhead tart

Grandma’s Gooseberry Tart
The first time I picked gooseberries with my mother in law, we collected a massive basketful. It was a gloriously sunny summer’s day and gooseberries (pronounced “gooze-berry”} were most certainly a novelty for me. We divided our berries into two lots: I took one and she took the other. Peggy made jam and I decided to bake tarts. The next afternoon, I brought the first tart I made to tea, and afterward my father-in-law kindly asked me if I would try making the next tart like his mother would have done, doubled up on gooseberries with a very short crust. I went back to my kitchen with his instructions and an hour later the most beautifully fruity pie popped out of the oven, and was later granted the honor of being “just as good as Grandma’s gooseberry tart.” 

Basic Short Pastry
2.5 cups/320g standard plain flour
1 cup/240g butter
pinch of sea salt
Scant 1/2 cup/100ml cold water
For the Gooseberry Filling
2 cups/300g gooseberries
A slug of elderflower cordial
½ cup/100g caster sugar
Place flour, butter and salt in large mixing bowl. Using your fingertips, gently rub ingredients together until they resemble rough breadcrumbs. Do not over mix or the butter will begin to melt from the heat of your fingers.
Add water and mix until a dough is formed. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight.
Gently re-work pastry before using, taking care to ensure it remains cold and firm.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry into 2 round sheets about 3mm thick.
Prick the bottom of the tart with a fork before placing a sheet of baking parchment over the top. Add beans, rice or baking weights. Place in the oven for 15 minutes or until cooked but still pale.
Remove from the oven and take out the baking parchment and beans.
Put the gooseberries, sugar and elderflower cordial into a saucepan and heat on medium until the gooseberries are just softening, check the flavour and add more cordial if desired.
Spoon the gooseberry compote into the part baked pastry case, cover with pastry top, sprinkle with granulated sugar and return the tart to the oven for a further 40 minutes or until pastry is golden.
Scullery Notes: Serve with a scoop of sweet cream ice cream.

 gooseberryg

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

(excerpted from my column in Irish Country Magazine 2014. Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2015 )

 

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Gooseberry Jam Donuts

25 Jul 2012

“You can’t grow hairs on a duck egg,

Hairs only grow on an ape,

And it’s only the hairs on a goosegog,

That stop it from being a grape.”

~author unknown

As I patiently plucked goosegog after goosegog last weekend, I contemplated how deceptively ‘like grapes’ these little fruits appear to be. But, after popping one little globe into my mouth, while simultaneously hearing “Oh, you may not want to eat them raw” warned from behind me at precisely the same time, I realized in a bite, how absolutely ‘not like a grape’ and more like a lemon, they are…..{Cook’s Note: gooseberries are very sour and tart when eaten raw. There are some exceptions to this, but it is generally the rule.}

Yes, the glory of gooseberry season has arrived in the Irish countryside. I have been patiently waiting for harvest time since peeking in on the bushes last month to find that they were all beginning to produce berries. When there was finally a window of sunshine, Geoffrey and I quickly marched straight on over to the little farm orchard and harvested green and red gooseberries with Gran from six thriving bushes.

This is my third year being acquainted with gooseberries. We have become fast friends. Sure, we always have a little scuffle when I go to pick them from their thorny branches, but once made into jam, all is forgiven again. Last year, I made a simple gooseberry froyo and the year before I posted “Peggy’s Gooseberry Jam” my mother-in-law’s lovely recipe.

This time around, Peggy gave us free reign over the berries as she still has a cupboard full of jam lingering from last season. Since we picked about 8 lbs (15 kgs), I decided to use the berries a few different ways. After a half a day of topping and tailing the berries, we gave them a good wash and they were prepped and ready for the world.

At the brilliant suggestion of my friend, Heidi, at Serious Jam, I combined gooseberry with roasted garlic for a gorgeous relish that will be lovely on crostini or with some sharp Irish cheddar. Then, I made a few pots of classic jam using my spanking new jam jars from Hen and Hammock. After that, we baked two gooseberry-elderflower tarts “grandma style” that were specially requested by my father-in-law.

BUT, best of all….we made:

Homemade donuts are no strangers in this house {cough}, but I had never attempted to make a jam donut up until now. I must admit, jam donuts were never a particular favourite of mine growing up. This is important to note, as I do consider myself somewhat of a donut addict aficionado. I have always relished Long Johns, Persians, Krullers, Kolaches, Fritters, or basically any type of raised unfilled donut slathered with vanilla, chocolate, or maple icing and toasted coconut, crushed peanuts, or various sprinkles gracing the tops. Then, there is also my affinity to the glazed, sugared, and cinnamon-sugared ring donuts and holes.  There was only one exception to my unfilled donut preference; I have always adored bismark donuts filled with custard and poofed all over with powdery confectioners sugar.

For whatever reason, the jelly-jam injection just did not strike my fancy.

Until now.

Originating in Germany around 1532, calling themselves “Berliner Buns” the jelly doughnut popularity spread across Europe swiftly. And, from what I can tell, jam doughnuts appear to be the doughnut-of-choice in Ireland.  They are mostly filled with a very sweet black currant or raspberry jam, and sprinkled liberally with sugar. Every bakery, grocery store, filling station and farmer’s market will have jam donuts ready and waiting for you.

At the little farmer’s urging, we decided to make the doughnuts on Saturday morning and fill them with our freshly potted gooseberry jam. For a little more novelty, we decided to mix up some lemonade and try to sell our donuts and lemonade at the farm gate.

We had one very good customer, and his name was Daddy.

Still, we had no problem finishing off our leftover stock……

Move over Long John, Jammy’s moving in.

Geoffrey’s Gooseberry Jam Doughnuts

Ingredients

2 (7 g each) packets of dried yeast granules

1/4 cup or 60ml warm water

1 cup or 250ml warm milk

1/4 cup or 60g caster/superfine sugar

60g or 3 tbsp butter, melted

2 eggs, lightly beaten

3 3/4  cups or 165g  plain flour

1/2 cup or 75g gooseberry jam (or any flavour), approximately {Peggy’s recipe is nice}

Oil for deep frying and icing/confectioner’s sugar for coating

Method

Combine yeast, water milk and sugar in small bowl.

Cover, stand in warm place about 10 minutes or until mixture is frothy.

Stir butter and eggs into yeast mixture.

Sift flour into large bowl, stir in yeast mixture, mix to a soft dough.

Cover, stand in warm place about 45 minutes or until dough has doubled in size.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface, knead dough about 5 minutes or until smooth.

Roll dough until about 2cm (about 1 inch) thick, cut into 5cm (about 2.5 inch) rounds.

Loosely cover rounds with oiled plastic wrap, stand in warm place about 10 minutes, or until almost doubled in size.

Deep-fry doughnuts in batches in hot oil until well browned, turning once.

Drain on absorbent paper, toss doughnuts immediately in icing sugar

Let cool slightly and fill a pastry bag, fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip with jam.

Insert the tip into the end of each doughnut and pipe approximately 1 to 2 teaspoons into them and serve.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2012. Donut making and sales assistance by Geoffrey McDonnell.

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