Forget your southern Eton confections! True Northern desserts need true Northern berries, by which I mean gooseberries. Yorkshire Gooseberry growers are a competitive bunch, and have been outdoing each other, and their Cheshire neighbours since the 1700s. I wouldn’t cook with one of the massive show gooseberries but the yearly harvest from my green gooseberry bushes makes the most wonderful sour/sweet fruit puree that just begs to be blended with foamy cream and crushed meringue.
I don’t know if anyone from Barnsley ever made this particular combination but I have christened it the Barnsley Mess in honour of those competitive Yorkshire gooseberry enthusiasts. Long live the eccentric hobbies of England!
We all know that a gooseberry fool is wondrous and easy dessert; but twist it up a bit with some home made meringue for that sweet/sour, cream/crunch combination that lights up your dinnertime.
Serves 6 (with some meringues left over) Timings: About an hour to cook the gooseberries and assemble if using ready made meringues but you can do most of it in advance and just whip the cream and assemble at the last minute.
Make your meringues: whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form, stir in half the sugar, whip a little more and stir in the rest of the sugar. You should have a glossy quite stiff mixture. Place spoonfuls on a lined metal baking sheet and cook at low heat in the oven at 130°C until dry and crumbly – about 90 minutes to 2 hours depending on the size of the spoonful you used. You do want these meringues to be quite dry and not chewy inside so you can crumble them up. Cool on a wire rack and keep in an airtight tin.
If you want to make little decorative meringues, fit a piping bag with a wide star nozzle. Use a toothpick to draw a line of food colouring down the inside of the piping bag in 3 lines. Fill some meringue mixture into the bag and dot stars of the mixture onto your lined baking sheet.
This amount of meringue mixture will make about 15 little star meringues and about 8 larger ones, so you have plenty.
Take about 10 of the largest berries and poach them gently in a little water with a dash of elderflower cordial until soft but still retaining their shape – only about 3 minutes if the berries are just picked. Scoop them out of the liquid and keep cool.
Cook the rest of the berries in a dash of elderflower cordial for about 5 minutes until they have cooked down and released their juices. Add the sugar, stir to dissolve and continue to cook until you have a concentrated gooseberry syrup, almost a jam but not quite as thick. Allow to cool.
Whip the double cream until soft peaks form.
Crumble your large meringues into chunks and smaller bits. Mix the meringue and the gooseberry “jam” into the cream and turn with a spoon a couple of times to give a rough combination.
Spoon into individual dishes or a large dish and drizzle the poached gooseberries over the top. Crown with your little stripy meringues.
Enjoy your Northern treat and breathe in the clean fresh air from the hills.
A Hug from the Kitchen
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