I just found a tray of these rare beauties at the farmers’ market. I’ve looked for them ever since we left Italy – they are a mystery to Italians, as unfathomable as rhubarb or horseradish. Last summer I asked at a few local shops but all I got was a rueful shaking of the head. Gooseberries had apparently gone the way of collar studs and donkey stone.
How could this be? When I was a child everyone grew gooseberries. Our next door neighbours had some particularly sweet, yellowish ones that Philip Aucott and I, both aged 5, raided through a gap in the fence. Where are they now? And where is Philip Aucott? Probably some big cheese at the Rotary Club who’d prefer to forget his fruit-rustling days.
Blackcurrants were the crowning glory of our garden. Another fruit you rarely see now. For two weeks every summer our lives were dominated by blackcurrants. They had to be picked, topped and tailed – that was my job. Even then I loved hypnotically mindless jobs – and bottled or turned into jam. In later years, after my mother had taken cooking classes, the blackcurrants were used for Summer Pudding too. My Mum approved of anything that used up stale bread and my Dad approved of anything edible. In fact she was harvesting blackcurrants and therefore out of earshot of the door bell when they came to tell her my father was dead. She never made Summer Pudding again.
But this morning I found gooseberries, grown in County Wicklow, and the discovery made me ridiculously happy. Not only can I now make a gooseberry pie, at a stroke I have answered the question of what to do with the leftover buttermilk ice cream. A happy confluence of ingredients on an overcast day when I’m obliged to wait in all afternoon for the plumber. Little things.