An Old Cottage Garden
Pink Gooseberry & Elderflower Jam Recipe
Memories can be fickle, the good times are nearly always better and the bad times sometimes fade, hopefully, but I do think that memories of my time spent with grandparents are an accurate recall of precious moments that I enjoyed with them. I remember happy times picking raspberries in my paternal grandfather’s garden in Middlesex…..he had numerous raspberry canes, all lined up in orderly rows at the bottom of his garden. A fascinating garden “potting” shed was the centre of my first jam making sessions – where my grandfather would allow me to mash a few raspberries in a plant pot and call it jam! My grandmother on the other hand, was making the real jam indoors, where there were jars and jars of preserves and pickles to be found in the “glory hole” next the kitchen and under the stairs.
“Up North”, as they say, in Northumberland and County Durham, the garden was just as fascinating, but instead of raspberries, it was all about rhubarb and gooseberries at my maternal grandparents house. The house was in fact an old stone cottage, with only two bedrooms in the attic and the loo being a “thunder box” outside in an old privy style shed. There was no water to the house, but as the cottage sat beside a burn (a brook), the water was collected and stored in large tubs and barrels……..clear, fresh and soft, my grandparents also collected train water too, and never has my hair been as soft and shiny as it was when I washed my hair using rain water. Towards the end of the garden, just over the burn, were granddad’s gooseberries bushes, it seemed like several hundred of them, although I’m sure there weren’t that many!
The “goosegogs” provided my retired grandparents with a little extra income every year, pin-money, as my grandfather would pick them and walk up the road to sell them from buckets. Gooseberry jam was a regular appearance on the breakfast and tea time table, and it is still my favourite jam, even now. The pretty pink jam also made its way into fools, cakes and steamed puddings, and my fondest memories are of gooseberry crumble with lashings of creamy custard – the milk being left everyday in billy cans by a local farmer – thick, unpasteurised and creamy, it made thick and silky custard, as well as decadent rice puddings and porridge. My grandparents gooseberries were tart and green, with vicious thorns that protected the fruit from being easily harvested – but the gooseberry bushes in my garden in France, are the rosy red kind, also called Dessert Gooseberries, and are so sweet that they can be eaten raw.
It’s a happy coincidence that elderflowers are often out when gooseberries come into season, and so the classic combination of gooseberry and elderflower is often seen in old cookbooks, as well as in modern-day shops and restaurants. Not wanting to be “spoon fed” by current trends, but wanting to try out this classic combo, I decided to create a new jam recipe for Pink Gooseberry and Elderflower Jam…..but instead of using fresh elderflower heads, I turned to a bottle of elderflower cordial, and used that in place of some of the water needed to cook the gooseberries before “jamming”. The recipe for my deliciously pink jam is shared below, and to date we have enjoyed it spread, liberally, on toast, croissants, crumpets and muffins…….and, I am thinking of making a Victoria Sponge cake and using it to spread in the middle of the cakes, in place of raspberry jam.
However I enjoy my recently made jam booty, whether it be on toast or in cakes, I shall be raising a delicate bone-china tea-cup (or a mug!) to my grandparents, who introduced me to fruit and preserves, as well as nature……I will never forget the warm, cosy days of “amateur” jam making in potting sheds, and making jam butties with warm, home-made bread at the tea time table – such small and inexpensive pleasures they may be, but what they lacked in sophistication was more than made up in precious memories and carefree, happy times, to cherish forever. That old cottage garden lives on in my memories still……..do enjoy the recipe if you make it, it’s based on my grandmother’s old recipe, and if you cannot source pink gooseberries, then just use green ones, you will still get a delicate pink coloured jam! Karen