Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Hooray, Hooray the 1st of May

J has a variety of friends from all walks of life - from his school days thirty odd years ago through to those that he has acquired more recently. And of course there is one friendship that is nearly two years old and which has blossomed into something else, but that's the subject of an entirely different and personal blog.

As with any group of people whom have known each other for years, J's friends have a number of rituals that mark the passing of each year. Lives change, partners come and go, children swell the numbers and yet the essential rites of passage remain the same. One such event is the annual Pimms Party which signifies the official start of Summer. Hence, whatever the date of said party, 'Hooray Hooray the 1st of May, outdoor sex beings today' is the huzzah of choice. (No, I don't really understand the whole thing either).

D and P were the generous hosts of this year's party and it was an opportunity to christen their new garden. Or it would have been had the heavens not decided to pour forth their scorn with a soaking of drizzle accompanied by a chilly wind. Not exactly garden party conditions. However, in true British spirit, that which singles us out as the only nation curious (and some would say mad) enough to picnic outdoors, come hell or high water, the party continued. In the kitchen. Where all parties end up gravitating regardless of where they commence. (Does this happen the world over or is that also a British trait?)

For me each season has a distinct taste and texture. Winter is the time for long, slow cooking that allows flavours to marry and to develop into rich and soothing casseroles with their soothing smoothness. The season for the deep, red fruit flavours of old vine Grenache and Syrah.

Spring is synonymous with the new season of fresh greens; asparagus, spring cabbage, onions, purple flowered broccoli and the welcome tart relief of forced rhubarb. And of course, Summer with its berries, bursting with colour that bleeds onto one's fingers and stains one's lips with their unctuous juices. With fresh crisp salads, silky goats cheese and the chilled grassy flavours of French Sauvignon Blanc.

But there is one combination of flavours, other than the obvious strawberries and cream, that typifies an English summer for me; that of gooseberries and elderflower. I only have to hear the very words and images of cricket whites and village greens fill my mind.

So the obvious contribution to the ultimate Pimms party had to be an elderflower and gooseberry sponge cake. I cannot recall from whence this recipe came as I found it amongst my treasure trove of 'must make' clippings, amassed over the past few years. However from the smeared plates and happy grins, I surmised that it hit the summery nail on the head.

Gooseberry and Elderflower Cake
225g unsalted butter, softened
200g golden caster sugar
4 medium eggs, beaten mixed with
4 tbsp elderflower cordial
225g self-raising flour

142ml pot double cream
2tbsp elderflower cordial
5tbsp gooseberry conserve
icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Grease 2 x 20cm sandwich tins and line the bottoms with baking parchment.
Cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg and cordial mixture a little at a time with a spoonful or so of the flour (this prevents dreaded curdling). Stir in the rest of the flour and gently combine. The mixture should easily plop off the spoon when tapped - if necessary add a touch more cordial to soften.
Spoon equal amounts of the mixture into the cake tins and level. Put on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 20-25 mins until the cakes are springy to the touch and have a beautiful golden hue. Allow the cakes to rest in the tins for five mins and then turn out onto wire racks. Peel of the baking paper when cool.

For the filling;
When ready to serve, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks (boyfriends come in very handy at this stage) and stir in the cordial. Spread the top of one cake with the gooseberry jam and then top with the cream. Sandwich the cakes together and then dust with icing sugar.

Note: if traveling with the cake, assemble it upon arrival - we learnt the hard way and oh my, is gooseberry jam slippery!

Oh and the outdoor sex? Not in 10 degrees centigrade with a howling gale. Nature's answer to birth control.


Peter Newman-Legros said...

Sounds like fun! Can't quite get my head round why summer should be celebrated on 1st May though - sounds a typically english eccentricity!
For me the smell of summer is that of freshly cut grass or that lovely aroma of wet but warm gardens after a refreshing shower of summer rain. Fingers crossed we get some of that rather than the more continous stuff of late, eh?
Did you know the French call the honourable gooseberry a currant? Either groseille à maquereau (mackerel berry?) or simply groseille verte. Bon continuation!

ann said...

how funny, we had a Pimm's party way across the pond this weekend, and had no idea we were fulfilling any such wonderful brit tradition!
the weather was good enough for outdoor sex, but i think there were too many curious dogs about for anyone to attempt it!