Elizabeth David Bequest: Gooseberry Fool from 'The Compleat Cook'

Written by Hannah Freeman |

In this new series of blog posts we will be attempting recipes from the collection of cookery books the Warburg received from Elizabeth David.

Elizabeth David was a British cookery writer, who transformed the nation’s eating habits during the mid-twentieth century. As part of her research into the social history of food, David collected cookery books and left her private collection of historical material (234 volumes) to the Warburg Institute Library. The digital collection on the Warburg Digital Library, when complete, will include approximately 150 of these: those which we cannot digitize for copyright reasons can be found in the Library under Banqueting classmark (DCH 250-DCH 540).

In this blog post, Digital Communications Officer, Hannah Freeman, attempts a Gooseberry Fool recipe from The Compleat Cook. 

The Compleat Cook is part of a volume of three books titled The Queen's Closet Opened. First published in 1655, the book contained recipes used for Queen Henrietta Maria, who was the widow of Charles I. 

I was drawn towards the gooseberry fool recipe from this book as I've not eaten gooseberries since I was a child; my grandparents used to grow them and my mum used to make a delicious gooseberry fool with the pickings. Therefore, I thought it was about time to try them again.

History of the fool

Modern day fool recipes use cream mixed with pureed fruit, whereas the traditional fool recipe has a custard base of eggs. Due to this fool recipe in The Compleat Cook being one of the first documented recipes of the fool it does indeed use eggs. 

According to my searchings of fruit fool on Wikipedia:

"'Foole' is first mentioned as a dessert in 1598, made of 'clouted creame' although the origins of gooseberry fool may date back to the 15th century. The earliest recipe for fruit fool dates to the mid-17th century. The soft fruits used in fools in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were often boiled and pulped before being mixed with the cream. It was considered the most 'prudent' way to eat fruit at the time as there was a fear that fruit was unhealthy and so it was felt necessary to boil fruit to a pulp to make it safe. Fruit fools and creams, argues food historian C. Anne Wilson, 'succeeded the medieval fruit pottages. They were based on the pulp of cooked fruits beaten together with cream and sugar. Gooseberries, and later orange juice combined with beaten eggs, were made up into fools.' The cream in earlier fools was often left unwhipped. The process of whipping cream before forks were adopted in the late 17th century was long and difficult. The eggs used in many earlier fool recipes became less common, and now most fools are made without them."

Making of the fool

Here is the recipe below 'To make a Gooseberry Fool'. One thing to note is that none of the recipes in this book give quantities of ingredients, so that's certainly something to take into consideration when attempting any dishes from this book. 

To begin with I measured out all of my ingredients (apart from the rose water) so I would be well prepared whilst cooking. I've not made a fruit fool before, let alone a fruit fool with eggs, so I wanted to ensure that everything was ready to go straight into the pot when it was required, thus hopefully avoiding a fruity scrambled egg disaster. 

Measure out your ingredients

I went for three tablespoons of sugar because gooseberries are quite a tart fruit and I thought this should be adequate... I had 350g of cooking gooseberries, three egg yolks and then a 'good piece of butter' - I forgot to weigh this but it was probably about 20-25g. 

Cut the ends off the gooseberries

In the recipe it doesn't mention to cut the ends off of the gooseberries, but I figured that they'd probably cook better without them and other more recent gooseberry fool recipes suggested doing this. 

Boil the gooseberries

The recipe begins by instructing, 'Take your Gooseberries, and put them in a Silver or Earthen Pot, and set it in a Skillet of boyling Water'. I popped my cut gooseberries into a 'silver' pot and filled the water up so it was just covering the berries. I then continued to boil them until they had changed colour to a pale green and the skin was starting to detach. 

gooseberries cooking in a pan
Strain the gooseberries

The recipe then says to strain them so I did this through a sieve and ended up with a fruit pulp:

gooseberries being strained through a sieve
Mix all your ingredients together

This part of the process was a little bit tricky as I was trying to capture what I was doing on my phone whilst simultaneously pouring in ingredients and mixing with one hand. This is something I do not recommended to do when working with hot fruity pulp and eggs! 

I heated up the gooseberry pulp so it was very slightly beginning to bubble and then added in the sugar, butter and about a tablespoon of rose water. Then once this was mixed in I added in the eggs - I recommend here using a whisk as I started with a spatula and then quickly changed to a whisk which made it much easier to mix together quickly. 

cooking a gooseberry fool

Once it was all mixed together I poured it into a bowl, mixed in about a teaspoon extra of rose water, and then popped it into the fridge so I could ensure I could 'serve it to the Table when it is cold'.

The end result and taste test

The Compleat Cook Gooseberry Fool

The end result may look like vomit, but it actually tasted quite good! It had a sort of citrussey taste. The other taste tester said, "it tastes like a flower or elderflowerey, kind of perfumey" - I think perhaps I might have been a bit over-zealous with the rose water.

Would you recommend this to other people to cook?

Yes, I would, especially if you like custard or fruity desserts. 

If you had to sum up this recipe in three words what would they be?

Tangy, custardy, tasty.

What would you give this dish out of ten?


Would you make it, or a version of it, again?

Maybe, it might be an interesting dessert for a dinner party... although it does lack on appearance! When it's dished up individually though it looks a bit more appetising. It could also be decorated with some edible flowers to make it look more appealing. 

Serving suggestion

> Discover the digital collection of the Elizabeth David Bequest