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Friday, July 2, 2010

I Dream of English Cream and Gooseberry Fool

It's a stunningly beautiful day in New York City, and ESPN has transported me to the emerald lawns of Wimbledon for the men's semi-finals. Now I just need a punnet of strawberries and cream and some Pimms for the picture to be complete.

Actually, that's not quite right. I never acquired the taste for Pimms during my years of living in England, and the one time I had strawberries at Wimbledon I thought they were vastly overpriced. (This year I understand the price has gone up by 25p, the first hike in five years. Not good.)

Thus this post will be an ode not to Wimbledon but to the joys of English cream, which for me remains the one redeeming feature of this traditional Wimbledon fare.

Just think, I went to England years ago to see the elephant, and ended up being enchanted by Guernsey and Jersey cows.

Seriously, the Brits taught me an important culinary lesson:
fresh cream + fresh berries = sublime — or as Marie Rayner, a Canadian who lives in England and blogs about how much she loves English food, puts it, scrumdiddlyumptious.

Some cultures have fruits with cream, but the Brits have cream with fruits! Japanese, by contrast, don't get what it means to do dairy — which is probably why they have the world's longest life expectancy (sigh!).  Likewise, the U.S. is sorely dairy challenged. Ours is the land of mostly homogenized milk.

So on this Wimbledon men's semifinals day, I'd like to pay tribute to England for exposing me to:

1) A world where cream can come in more forms than you can shake a mixer at: whipping cream, single cream, double cream, extra thick double cream, Devonshire cream, Cornish clotted cream, thick 'n' creamy yogurt...

2) The joys of berries and cream, including not only strawberries and cream but also gooseberry fool. To their credit, the English figured out how to transform spiky, hard tart green fruit introduced from Holland in the 15th century, into a food fit for gods. Their secret? Add sugar and fresh cream!

But don't just take my word for it. Catherine Ross, an Englishwoman who lives in California and keeps a blog, Albion Cooks, names gooseberry fool as one of her top five foods everyone should try in their lifetimes. I am happy to recommend her recipe — with just three annotations:
* Instead of putting the gooseberry mixture through a sieve (which sounds too much like hard work!), you could mash with a fork or, for a smoother texture, puree in a blender or food processor.
* It's crucial to lightly fold in the gooseberry mixture, leaving visible streaks of berries and cream.
* The taste is even more enhanced if you sprinkle crushed ginger cookies (aka biscuits) on the top. North Americans might wish to use Anna's Ginger Thins, which are made in Canada, to a Swedish recipe, 0 transfat. (I know, it's almost as ironic as ordering a diet coke with a Big Mac, but with a dessert that is mostly cream, there's no need for anything heavier.)

Question: Is this obsession with English cream and the goosegog perfectly understandable, or have I gone OTT (of the milk)?


MikeH said...

I've never been to Wimbledon during the tennis so have never had the opportunity to eat overpriced strawberries and cream. However, summer is here and fresh strawberries and double cream are readily available at our local Waitrose. We bought some just today. Strawberries and cream; almost as good as scones, jam and clotted cream ;)

ML Awanohara said...

Thanks, Mike, for that vicarious thrill. Are the strawbs local? And do you have milk with the cream on top delivered to your doorstep--or has the milkman gone the way of the dinosaur?

Kate said...

I confess to not being able to bear gooseberries, but the cream part has me interested! I was ecstatic when I discovered that our new branch of Whole Foods stocked imported Devon clotted cream (have later heard that the boss of WF is trying to move to a healthier philosophy, which presumably means no clotted cream--he is seriously missing the point) and immediately made scones and bought strawberry jam for a long-awaited Cream Tea.

Other wonderful uses for whipped cream -- trifle, pavlova (not difficult if you follow the Delia Smith method), cakes. Forget the Betty Crocker frosting with unpronouncable ingredients -- a plain yellow cake ("Victoria Sponge") sandwiched together with jam and whipped cream and dusted with confectioner's sugar is simply sublime.

Saturated fats rule. I'll take the shorter life expectancy in exchange, any day.

ML Awanohara said...

I'm so glad you mentioned Delia Smith. Domestic goddess Nigella Lawson is so much more well known in this country. But for me, Delia is, and will always be, the Juno of English cookery. I collected her books when I lived in the UK. And, since we're talking berries and cream, it's worth calling out her recipes for Eton mess and summer pudding. The latter is of course always served with a bowl of thick cream...

A blog about me, an Aussie girl who came to the UK and stayed... said...

Well I am a custard girl myself and find this best served in lashings (a fine, fine unit of measurement) over freshly-picked blackberries. Now that's scrumdiddlyumptious!

Kathryn Allison said...

Summer pudding! The best! Always a hit with Americans, who can't believe it's made with Wonder bread. A tip -- add a little Jell-O powder(strawberry, raspberry, whatever) to the fruit. The pudding holds its shape that much better.

I love Delia Smith's books. Her Christmas one gets a thorough workout in this house from November onward.

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