Gooseberry, Gooseberry, Gooseberry Pie
August 15, 2009 § 3 Comments
by E.O. Schaub
“Ask me a riddle and I reply: Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie.”
Confession time: I am a sometime dabbler in the dark arts. Yes, it’s true. I make pies.
Okay, maybe dark isn’t the right word. Golden brown is more like it… with all manner of lovely, lava-like fruity concoctions bubbling and steaming just beneath the surface. Name me one thing that’s better about summer than a perfect, freshly-baked pie sitting on the stove to cool- I dare you.
Nope, it’s pretty hard, you have to admit. Summer has so-oooo many of these quietly wonderful sensory-overload experiences: baking on a towel in the too-hot sun after a bracing dip in the swimming hole; taking that first, mouth-full-of-sugar bite of a big-as-your-head wad of cotton candy; or that green-stemmy smell of tomato plants, filled with hopeful, yellow flowers, peeking out from leafy hiding places, promising tomatoes to come… But if you ask me- and let’s assume that you did- none of these beats that moment when the hot summer pie is born.
Okay, I get carried away, I know. My husband tells me as much when I practically leap out of the car window after catching my first glimpse of a farm stand advertising “fresh peaches!” I can pore over the berry selection at Dutton’s Farm Stand for inordinate amounts of time, shooing the fruit flies and imagining wonderful concoctions, new pies to try out (hmmmm, what would Red Currant be like?), and old favorites to recreate (Strawberry Icebox, Summer Peach of course, and never, never overlook Just Plain Blueberry)…
Maybe- and this is going to sound odd- maybe it all goes back to McDonald’s. Like most kids I knew, I adored going to McDonald’s, and always knew exactly what I would get: a cheeseburger, with fries, and an (ahem) “cherry pie,” which consisted of a thin crusty envelope of dough around a boiling hot soup of unnaturally red cherry filling. This was, as far as kid-me was concerned, the best, most wonderful edible thing on earth. Even though I knew better, I was a miserable failure at waiting for the requisite cooling period and the number of burned tongues I got on these hot little tamales is inestimable.
Not that I was deprived at home in the pie department. My mother was no culinary slouch, and even though we lived in a New York suburb, the appearance of fresh blueberries or rhubarb in our market was reason enough for the occasional pie to appear in our kitchen as I was growing up. Even better than the pie, to my mind, was the fact that my mother always shared the pie dough, saving scraps and strips for us to roll into balls and devour quickly, always wishing there was more. It wasn’t the sweet-sweet no-brainer, kid-friendly taste of a chocolate chip cookie dough, but something… more, something complicated. It was sweet and savory- due to the presence of both salt and sugar; it was simultaneously creamy and doughy- due of course to the two primary components of butter and flour. It was subtle; it was complex; not to mention the fact that you could make it into snowman and snake shapes before you ate it. I was entirely hooked.
It wasn’t until much, much later, when I had a kitchen of my own to cook in, that I realized the beautiful, elemental simplicity of my mother’s dough recipe- butter, flour, salt, sugar- or actually how easy, thanks to the modern day marvel of the Cuisinart, it was to make. I tried other, more complicated recipes: “combine all ingredients, except for ½ tsp of salt and .004 micrograms of cardamom. Put dough in freezer and wait one half hour. Remove from freezer, add half the salt and 1/3 the cardamom. Do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around. Return to freezer for twenty minutes. Remove and knead dough while teaching yourself to play the harmonica. Left handed. ” Turns out, Mom’s good ol’ four ingredient recipe was always the winner anyway, not the least reason being because it is virtually always half the work and 1/3 the ingredient list. (Or was that 1/3 the work and half the ingredient list…?) It was like my Dad always used to say: “The crust? Why that’s the best part!”
But man does not live by crust alone. Conveniently, and I must stress, entirely coincidentally, I now live in a place where orchards, farm stands and random road-side fruit trees abound. Heck- our house came complete with two apple trees, a concord grape vine and a pear tree (sans partridge) just, you know, sitting there- making fruit every year all by themselves, whether or not anyone actually wanted it or anything. Good thing too- since I’m a slow learner, and still trying to make sense of hard little pears that apparently never ripen and tricky details such as how to remove seeds from concord grapes without removing, you know, the grape. (Whoops! There goes a year of grapes down the drain! Again!). But over the years our family has developed some fruit-centric, pie-in-mind rituals such as our annual pilgrimages to Hick’s Orchard to pick bushels of heavenly sour cherries, or to nearby Liebig’s Fruit Farm to pick armloads of strawberries and buckets of blueberries. Oh, and we have a freezer you could choke an elephant with.
This year, however, I discovered something new. While browsing our local farm stand, I chanced upon three containers of veiny, translucent, magenta-colored berries. The cardboard sign read- “Gooseberries.” Wow! Gooseberries! I promptly signed over my lifesavings in exchange for the pricey little gems and raced home to figure out what on earth to do with the things. Did you have to remove the seeds? Or the skins? And how to remove the funny little stems on either end?
After hunting around online I found the answers to all these questions (no, no, and pinch them off with your fingers) as well as a recipe for Gooseberry Pie that no one in the online peanut gallery had commented was “too sweet!!!” -not an easy thing to do. I particularly adore tart fruits and am one of the few finicky folks who feel that the addition of strawberries does nothing but ruin a perfectly good rhubarb pie; the last thing I wanted to do was smother these little beauties in several cups of sugar. Whereas many of the recipes I came upon called for a ratio of two cups sugar to three cups fruit, the one I ultimately made called for one cup sugar to four cups fruit… perfect!
Or was it? After all of my initial excitement I was actually nervous to take the first bite- what if it was just really, really awful? Remember Shoo-Fly Pie? I thought- I had been so enamored with the charming name until I actually tried it in a diner in Pennsylvania and… oh, blecch! Moreover, I had once again ignored my mother’s tried-and-true advice about n-e-v-e-r cooking new recipes for guests. So-oooo we had ten friends and family for lunch that day! (I could see it now: “And for dessert? We have Yuck Pie!”)
Just for a moment I wondered, what if you really did have to be a born-and-bred rural person to love such foreign-sounding delicacies as fiddleheads and beet greens and (gulp)… gooseberries? What if I was missing the country-cuisine gene? Why had I assumed so confidently that I would love gooseberry pie?
Do you know what? Gooseberries came through for me. I’m happy to officially report there is no such thing as the country-cuisine gene. Gooseberry Pie is now tied with Rhubarb as my all-time favorite. (Although Sour Cherry is a definitive runner-up in good standing). It’s wonderfully tart and sweet and juicy and… well, just everything a pie should be. Oh, and they have to be cold, mind you. I don’t know why, but sour fruit pies never taste best to me right out of the oven. Instead, they have to be nice and refrigerator cold. Add one scoop of Wilcox Vanilla ice cream (just one) and… mmmmmmm. Now- that’s summer.
Gooseberry Gooseberry Gooseberry Pie Recipe
(as found on Chowhound.com)
Use your favorite crust recipe for two crusts. Line a 10 inch pyrex pie pan with first crust.
Preheat oven to 450
Pick over and hull 4 cups ripe gooseberries
Mix 2T cornstarch with ¼ c. water until smooth and blend with 2/3 to 1 cup sugar (I used 1 cup)
Blend gently into the berries and let stand for 15 minutes. Add ½ tsp cinnamon to fruit and put fruit in shell. Dot with 2T small butter pieces.
Cover fruit with top crust and cut vents. Brush crust with cream for pretty browning.
Bake in top 1/3 of oven for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 350 and bake about 40 to 45 minutes. If needed, cover crust edges to prevent burning.
PS- As with many fruit pies, you may need to place a cookie sheet beneath pie at the point when you reduce the heat to 350- my pie did runneth over and for a while my oven had a serious case of Gooseberry goo.