Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Defensive cooking

As I have said before, I love to try new fruits and vegetables. Branden is not always so enthusiastic, but he generally displays a great deal of forbearance and usually goes along with this crazy habit. (And yes, he was completely right about stinging nettles...they're disgusting.)

I mentioned in the last fruit post that I'd seen another berry-like thing in the grocery store. This week, we bought some:

They're called Stachelbeeren in German; literally "thorn berry." Aren't they beautiful? Translucent green orbs, with lacy veins running through them, and a cluster of dark seeds in the middle.

We played a guessing game before tasting them. I bet that they tasted like kiwi fruit. I couldn't have been closer if I'd already tried one. (I hadn't.)

They are a lot like kiwi. Green interior, big, black seeds. Same almost-strawberry kind of taste. But no furry outside. And a lot of turgor pressure. You think it's hard to stab a cherry tomato with a fork? Hah. I see your cherry tomato and raise you gooseberry.

Gooseberries. I love Google.

People online said that they are very sour (so beware if you ever decide to try them yourself), but these are apparently the very ripe kind that are quite sweet. I like them a lot, but Branden objects to the texture of their skin, and the force required to pierce it.

We had gooseberries with breakfast on Sunday, and I left the tray of them on the table for eating. I was also scheming about a possible fruit tart later in the week. (Not needing to peel a kiwi for the tart = a big plus.)

I also added them to the list of odd things that I should grow in my garden someday. This list gets longer by the minute, as I become more and more envious of the gardens here. Everyone has an orchard but me! They are apparently a normal part of having a yard here. Of course, the fact that orchards come standard in your yard is not helpful if you don't have a yard. Ah, well. Someday.

This morning, I walked by the table and noticed that all of the gooseberries had turned red. There had been a few red ones before, but now the whole container was red. Closer investigation reveals a very interesting and rather dramatic trait of the innocent-looking gooseberry.

Apparently, when gooseberries get overripe, they take all that extra turgor pressure and use it to explode.

This is an extremely effective way for a plant to operate. I must commend them for their genius. This way, the seeds lay not only where the parent fruit fell, but anywhere else that their gooey liquid was able to carry them. Ingenious.

All in all, it is a rather helpful way for something to go bad. There's no mistaking it. If the berry has exploded, you don't eat it. Simple as that. I much prefer this to other fruits where you only realize that it's gone after you bite into it. And if something has to be nasty when it spoils, it might as well go whole hog and put on a show, right?

Of course, the show was rather messy, as they often are. Especially given that the projections of berry goo were apparently also an instant recipe for white mold. And they stink. Think banana peels that have been in the trash a day too long.

Gestunken. A lot.

(No that is nothing like proper grammar, but it makes me happy that I got to use gestunken in a blog post!!)

So, I did what any self-respecting hausfrau would do: I threw them out picked through the entire bin and pulled out all the unexploded berries.

Clearly, they needed to be used quickly, if only in self-defense. Visions of fruit tart were shattered.

But what do you do with exploding berries?

Boil them, of course.

After careful washing, I put all the gooseberries in a pot, along with some currants and some mirabelles that we'd picked on Saturday in the park in Bruschal. (No, you did not miss anything. In an odd twist of delayed-post-blogging, we have not uploaded these pictures yet, and so you know nothing of Bruschal, or of mirabelles. All in good time. For now, mirabelles are another new fruit, and we had a bunch of them.)

I put the mirabelles, exploding gooseberries, and some leftover currants in a pot, added a little bit of water, and boiled.

In about 5 minutes, all the skins had peeled off, and I was left with assorted berry pulp.

I pressed that through the pasta strainer, and was left with a very pretty red liquid. It smelled wonderful.

It tasted like I had swallowed the sourest black hole in the universe. Boy was that a pucker face. Branden was not here to take pictures, so I'm afraid I can't show you what it looked like, but I definitely think there had to be some kind of antimatter-meets-matter going on to pull that kind of vacuum.

So. Sugar.

I added sugar until I could envision actually enjoying this liquid (about a cup of sugar for the 2-3 cups of liquid), and then let it boil for a while. As I wasn't expecting to be coming up with uses for overripe fruit on the fly, I had no pectin* in the house, but I'd read that gooseberries are high in natural pectin, so there was some hope that this would turn into something like jelly.

The liquid did start to thicken, but not enough to get a good gel. Then I remembered that pectin doesn't work if you don't have enough sugar. And, if anything, this juice was a little short on the sugar. So I added some more, and it immediately got thicker.

This was a good sign. I kept adding sugar a little at a time until I had enough in there that the jelly started sheeting.**

And it did. Beautifully. I'm not sure that I've ever gotten a jelly this good with pectin added. After just a few minutes of cooling, it can hold its own weight (doesn't flop into a puddle), tears like jelly should (think lumps of Welch's grape), and tastes really good.

It's not quite a fruit tart, but I'm pretty happy with the save.

And those gooseberry bushes? Waaay out back, behind the shed.

*Pectin is the stuff that makes jelly gel. It's a fruit starch, and if the fruit has enough pectin, you don't need to add more. Still, you usually add extra pectin when you want jelly to make sure that you actually get jelly and not just a vat of boiling liquid.

**Sheeting is the term for when a jelly holds together and runs off the spoon in sheets rather than dripping. When your jelly begins sheeting, it's time to take it off the heat.

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