Mr. Bennet’s Gooseberry Fool

This is not Mr. Bennet.  It’s Mr. Darcy, as portrayed by Colin Firth.  

You’re welcome 🙂

About 17 years ago I had to read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for a Great Books event I facilitated at Milwaukee School of Engineering.  “There’s a movie,” one of my friends told me.  Actually there were several, she corrected herself.  “You need to get the one starring Colin Firth.”  Every time I told anyone about my upcoming event they unfailingly asked whether I’d seen the movie and, upon learning I hadn’t, urged me to watch it—as long as it was “the one with Colin Firth.”

Colin Firth, Colin Firth, Colin Firth.  Who the heck was Colin Firth?  And why was everyone insisting I watch ONLY the film that had him in it?

As I put together my booklet of discussion questions and background info to give the evening’s participants, I came across the above photo, the first I’d ever seen of the actor.  Light bulb moment; I finally got it.

If you’ve never seen the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice, you really ought to.  Yeah, it’s the one with Colin Firth.  And it really is the best (although I also really love ITV’s Lost in Austen, a very funny 3-hour, 4-episode series that takes everything you think you know about Pride and Prejudice and turns it on its head).

But back to Mr. Bennet and his “Gooseberry Fool.”  In one of the BBC Pride and Prejudice DVD’s bonus features, Allison Steadman (who plays Mrs. Bennet) laughs about a scene at the dinner table in which the actors got to request which desserts they’d like to eat during the filming.  She wisely chose fruit, which required her to eat only a few grapes at a time. Benjamin Whitrow (Mr. Bennet) foolishly asked for his favorite dessert, a “fool” (pudding/custard) made with a gooseberry sauce and lots of whipped cream.  Take after take he had to eat the rich dish, and by the time they finished shooting two days later, he said he could never eat it again.

Luckily for the rest of us, who didn’t have to gorge ourselves for the camera, Benjamin Whitrow’s gooseberry fool recipe is included in this bonus feature.  Even luckier, I happen to have a gooseberry bush in my yard, so I can pick all the fruit I want to each summer without needing to rely on grocery stores—which rarely carry gooseberries anyway.

An aside: gooseberry bushes are extremely hardy, super easy to maintain, and incredibly bountiful.  If you can find a bush, just dig a hole in your yard and stick it into the dirt.  The berries grow on old wood, similar to raspberries, so in autumn cut the bush back to about half its summertime size.  At least that is what has worked well for us; we have a relatively small amount of yard given over to the bush but LOTS of fruit.  If you can’t find a bush but can get your hands on a single gooseberry, just dig a shallow hole and plant it.  Or toss the gooseberry onto the ground in the general area where you’d like your bush to be. That’s about all there is to it.  As I said, very low maintenance!

In southeastern Wisconsin our gooseberries are usually ready to pick by the end of June.  They stay in pretty prime condition (tart-flavored and pale green with paler-shade stripes) throughout July.  By August and September the fruit has reddened and sweetened. Although my daughters used to pick the berries and eat them straight from the bush in whatever state of ripeness, the early, tart-tasting ones remain our favorite.  We leave the red ones for the birds, and by the time we’re ready to cut the bush back for the winter, all the gooseberries have been eaten.

Again, back to Mr. Bennet’s gooseberry fool, which I plan to make later this week.  Today I picked gooseberries from our bush, and no sooner had I started when I found this little frog (toad? I’ve never seen a green one though) sitting on a branch inside the bush, partially hidden under a leaf.  He hung on despite the bouncing around that accompanied every tug of berries from the branches.

frog on gooseberry bush branch

Being that the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice is a BBC production, Mr. Bennet’s gooseberry fool recipe is written in metric units.  I had to translate them into standard American measurements, which I include here in case you’d like to try making this dessert yourself (and you live in America, like me; to make the recipe with metric measures, you need 500 g gooseberries, 30 g butter, 30 g sugar, and 350 mL cream.)

Before starting, wash the gooseberries and remove their stems and “tails.”  See the before-and-after photos below.  (Excuse my messy handwriting; I was in a hurry when I jotted this recipe down 🙂 )

Before

Before

After

After

To prepare the “Gooseberry Fool”:

  1. Melt 2½ Tbsp butter in a saucepan.  Add 2½ cups gooseberries and 2½ Tbsp sugar.  Simmer until gooseberries are soft.
  2. Press the sweetened pulp through a sieve.  Some people like the crunch that comes with leaving the seeds in.  Just as some people don’t mind eating grapes with seeds.  If you prefer seedless grapes, you’ll no doubt also prefer seedless gooseberry fool.
  3. Cool pulp (in the fridge).
  4. Whip 12 ounces (about 1½ cups) of heavy cream (preferably not ultra-pasteurized) until not-quite stiff peaks form.
  5. Fold (very gently, minimally stir) chilled pulp into the whipped cream.

I’m going to try some variations I found online, in which you fold in a touch of plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt to the cream after it’s whipped, and then layer the whipped cream, gooseberry pulp, and crushed almond or shortbread cookies in the serving glass, like a parfait.

I’m not really a “food blogger,” so there’s no photo of the finished product here. But I hope you like it if you’re inspired to give this recipe a try.  I think I’m going to make the fool on Friday—and have it as an end-of-week treat while watching Pride and Prejudice.

The one with Colin Firth 🙂

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. My blog is a space for playing with ideas about creativity, innovation, lifelong learning, and the nature of "insight."
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One Response to Mr. Bennet’s Gooseberry Fool

  1. I love both of those versions of P and P!!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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