A Glut of Gooseberries.

It has occurred to me that I have scuppered my chances of substantial blogging ‘success’ by stubbornly refusing, against advice, to separate the books from the baking, etc. I’m sticking to my guns. I’m a housewife; surely that’s niche enough these days. I bake, I garden, I make and mend, I moan a lot, occasionally rejoice, and I read a ton of books. Because of this blog, my lovely fellow-bloggers, and your kind comments, I know I am not alone. That, my friends, is all I need.

One more thing: while I am fortunate enough to be paid for contributions to Bookwitty.com, my blog posts are not sponsored in any way and are not affiliate-linked. If I mention a book here, or link on to a review, it is simply because I really love it and want you to know about it. That’s all.

Moving on…

I have no idea what the collective noun is for gooseberries but the word around here is glut. I’ve run short of jam jars and the freezer is already chock-a-block and so, I have been driven to remarkable (by my standards) creativity.

There are, in my garden, two types of gooseberry bush. The first is a vicious creature, intent on impaling its owner with inch-long thorns.The fruits of this bush, which take considerable determination to gather, are massive, green, hirsute, tough-skinned, globules of concentrated citric acid. They make excellent jam (as seen in this post) and now, believe it or not, they make a fabulous kimchi. Now listen, I’m no expert, the only kimchi I’ve eaten thus far are those I’ve made myself. I don’t even know whether it is correct to write kimchi or kimchis in the previous sentence. Whichever, this is tasty stuff. Husband and I have been piling it up on burgers and barbecued chicken. The recipe is a variation on the Rhubarb Kimchi in Fiery Ferments by Christopher and Kristin Shockey. I recommend their book as an excellent guide for any fellow novice fermenters. Take a look at their website, here. If you have a few gooseberries, this is surely worth trying for novelty factor alone.

Gooseberry Kimchi.

300g gooseberries, sliced as finely as patience allows
3 scallions (spring onions), sliced finely
1 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste
Generous tablespoon of chilli flakes
Generous tablespoon of grated fresh ginger.
Combine everything together in a bowl and give it a good mix until it all looks a bit juicy. Then, pack the mixture into a small fermenting jar, if you have one. I don’t. I’ve used either small Kilner jars or recycled beetroot jars which seem to be exactly the right size for our appetites. The important thing is to press it down as firmly as you can to eliminate as much air as possible.

Leave the jar in a shady corner of the kitchen for a week, remembering to ‘burp’ it daily by the simple expedient of quickly opening it and closing it again. You should see tiny bubbles so you know it’s alive. The flavours mellow and mingle as the week progresses.

It’s ready to eat. I keep it in the fridge too prevent further fermentation or spoiling.

Gooseberry Kimchi.
Gooseberry Kimchi!


The second variety is a far more gentle gooseberry; smaller, smooth-skinned and turning a rosy pink under the cerulean blue skies of this past week. With a stroke of pure genius (it might have been the sun) I had a notion of making a Gooseberry Clafoutis. This is a variation on a recipe for Rhubarb Clafoutis taken from a children’s cookbook (Yumee by Aoileann Garavaglia) so it’s dead easy and, honestly, very yumee. I doubled the recipe; you could easily halve it again if your home is not populated, as mine is, by ravaging savages.

Gooseberry Clafoutis.

500g gooseberies
4 eggs
350ml cream
200ml good, full fat, natural yogurt (my favourite is the greek-style from Lidl)
4 tb.sp. golden syrup.

Ingredients for gooseberry clafoutis.

Place the topped and tailed gooseberries in a large, oven-proof dish. Mine is a 28cm diameter tart dish but a lasagne dish works fine too.
Whisk together the remaining ingredients to make a custard and pour over the gooseberries.
Bake at 180°C for 35-40 minutes. Watch it closely at the end and try to nab it when the edges are browning but the centre still has a wobble to it.
Serve with cream and a good book. (I’m reading Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield; it’s a joy! Thanks, Sam, for convincing me to treat myself.)


Gooseberry Clafoutis.
Gooseberry Clafoutis.

If even those simple recipes seem too much like hard work or if, like me, you STILL have MORE gooseberries, try this one.

The One-Week-When-The-Sun-Shines-In-Ireland Dinner.


  1. Suggest to husband that he take the barbecue you bought him for Christmas out of the bubble wrap. Allow Husband cook just as much MEAT as his heart desires. Pass everyone a ripe tomato for sake of conscience.barbecue
  2. Suggest to offspring that they pick everything that’s ripe, with a particular emphasis on GOOSEBERRIES, and encourage to have huge fun wrapping fruit in tinfoil parcels (I’ve read, by the way, that Americans find our persistence with tinfoil quaint). Deliver parcels to expert at barbecue.barbecue fruit parcels
  3. Relax in the company of Small Reader and above-mentioned Provincial Lady.IMG_7648
  4. Relish, ideally with vanilla icecream, the fruits of your labour.IMG_7666

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

PS. STILL have more gooseberries!

Sequels and Spin-offs: 11 ways to re-live Pride and Prejudice.

Pride and Prejudice.

The very first published piece of Pride and Prejudice fan fiction, which I suspect may have been the first of any fan fiction, was a book called Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil Brinton. Having no small number of Pride and Prejudice spin-offs on my own shelves, I had a notion of collating a list. Holy Moly, I had no idea how many were out there! A girl could spend her entire life reading nothing else. Darcy and Elizabeth grow old, or don’t, have two sons, have five daughters, have affairs with Bingley and Charlotte respectively (yes, in that order), battle zombies, are transformed into Antipodean animals, and, most horrifying of all, agree to take part in a reality TV show.

My girl reading Pride and Prejudice.

Meanwhile, my lovely twelve-year-old daughter has been reading the real thing. She ran upstairs last night to tell me, through the bathroom door (why must big announcements always be made through the bathroom door), that she had finished it.

‘It was so exciting! At the end! It all happened so fast! After all the long stories! With Wickham and everything! And then Jane and Bingley! And then Elizabeth and Darcy! It was like wham, wham, wham, The End! But what will I read now?’

Like thousands before her…

Eldest daughter helped me design a solution to finding your ideal dose of Darcy. For rapid reviews of these books, click hereSequels and Spin-offs to Pride and Prejudice.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

The Longbourn Letters with Rose Servitova.

The Longbourn Letters by Rose Servitova.

Big news, big news! Rose Servitova is here (well, you know the way, sort of, virtually, here) and she is brilliant. But hang on, let me start at the beginning.

For me, Jane Austen‘s Pride and Prejudice has been the cause of Delight and Despair as I have spent a lifetime searching for anything to match it. I’m thrilled to have discovered a real gem which I think shall sit quite happily alongside my battered and worn Austen collection.

Rose Servitova. Author of The Longbourn Letters.
Rose Servitova.

The Longbourn Letters, by Rose Servitova, is a collection of the correspondence between Mr. Bennet and Mr. Collins over a period of seven years including the events of Pride and Prejudice. The gentlemen exchange as much commentary on gardening affairs as they do on family exploits with particular attention paid to Mr. Bennet’s miraculous and prize-winning blackcurrants.

Mr. Bennet frequently resorts to a bolstering measure of port, or cognac, or fine wine (as available) before tackling correspondence with the indefatigable Mr Collins and his letters, while polite and jovial, seem to primarily serve as a method of keeping his cousin at arm’s length.

‘May I caution you, sir, not to trouble yourself with rushing to our sides.’

Nevertheless, Mr. Collins is a deal more bearable in writing than in person and Mr. Bennet grows to appreciate Collins’ candour and naïveté.

‘I must confess, I would not give up our correspondence for all the geese in the land, or for all the port either, for that matter, although the sacrifice be greater.’

The Longbourn Letters convinced me completely. It was a joy to become better acquainted with Mr. Bennet and Mr. Collins and to witness the rather moving relationship which develops between them. I willingly admit to shedding a tear and fear I may have been overheard snorting with laughter in a most unladylike manner.

The Longbourn Letters by Rose Servitova.

Rose Servitova, it turns out, is a funny and charming woman, an Irish woman at that, and an excellent correspondent. I have greatly enjoyed a rapid-fire exchange of emails with her over the last couple of weeks and now, by the magic of the internet, here she is to chat with me about her book.

Rose, how and when did you first come to read Jane Austen, and Pride and Prejudice in particular? 

I first came across Jane Austen’s works at my grandmother’s house. She kept all the classics, happy, happy days.

If you were to describe yourself as one of the Bennet girls, which would you be?

Mary Bennet – would you believe? I see her as a spiritual and deep individual, who does not conform to what’s expected of her by society. In my version of her, she is nature-loving and likes lots of alone time. I see her as being as witty as Mr Bennet but as she does not use it in the same beguiling way that Lizzy does, it is not seen as ‘charm’ or as an attractive, effeminate wit but as something quite out of place in a society where she should not be smarter than the men in her company.

Yours is an epistolary novel. Are you, in real life, a writer of letters?

Image result for mr bennet and mr collins

I certainly did write hundreds of letters in my lifetime but only send emails now – rarely letters. I await a ‘beam-me-up Scotty’ machine. Then the fun will begin!

Jane Austen included lots of letters in her novels. Do you think people sometimes reveal more in a letter than they might in conversation?

When emotions are hard to deal with, it may be easier to express in word rather than in person. On the other hand, there’s the risk of misconstruing a message and I have often had to send a clarifying correspondence because I saw that unintentional mischief was afoot.

The book opens with the discovery of a box of letters long hidden behind the shelves of Longbourn’s library. Would you agree that many of us who grew up reading Austen are more than half convinced that Pride and Prejudice really happened?

You would be surprised if I told you how many people asked me about the letters I discovered, so convinced they were by the prologue. They knew I had written a piece of fiction but they were convinced, somehow, that these letters were real, including their discovery. It made me laugh. I do think that The Longbourn Letters is more ‘real’ and convincing in that sense than the original Pride & Prejudice because there’s no pandering to a plot or a romantic storyline, there is just an unfolding of a relationship, that will catch you unawares. It is only at the end that you really see how far they’ve come, though the humour and shenanigans keep the reader engaged throughout.

Did Jane Austen’s plot figure more as a constraint or as a support to your novel?

Excellent question!! It has been noticed by some reviewers, very cunningly, that the novel really takes off once the plot of Pride & Prejudice comes to an end in the middle of the second chapter of The Longbourn Letters….and they would be right. It was a great scaffolding to help me along at first and I never had any intention of deviating from Austen’s genius, but once I was freed from the storyline of Pride & Prejudice I could allow Mr Collins and Mr Bennet the freedom to get on with things themselves…and they did not disappoint.

Mr. Bennet is one of Austen’s wittiest characters while poor Mr. Collins is all but witless. Why did you think their relationship could develop beyond the demands of duty?

To me it was as obvious as Darcy and Elizabeth. Mr Collins and Mr Bennet were made for each other and I have no doubt that when writing, Austen was aware of how much their contrasting with each other showed the other one up.  While avoiding the company of Mr Collins, Mr Bennet confessed that he relished his letters. Due to inheritance, marriage to a neighbour and Lady Catherine’s nephew becoming Mr Bennet’s son-in-law, they were destined to see and hear more from each other over time and not less. I had to learn what those letters contained, how they maintained correspondence over the years and did they change any for being in each other’s lives.

I’ve long believed that there is a special bond between cousins, even those whose characters seem incompatible. It seems to me that your book touches on that bond. Would you agree?

Absolutely! Some of my closest friends are my cousins. There is a bond – a pulling together that happens as a result of being cousins that is very special, especially if you spent time together in your youth. It’s a Famous-Five type relationship.

You seem to have channelled the voices of Mr. Bennet and Mr. Collins. Did that come easily? Did you find yourself writing regency style texts and emails to family and friends?

Haha! It amazed me how easy it was for me to get inside their heads. It says a lot about the author, in my opinion – an ability to have a dry sense of humour and be as ‘thick as a ditch’ at the same time.  The letters were a good way to go because once one was written, I knew immediately how the other would respond. I also found it so easy to write ‘regency’ as you refer to it. Perhaps my internal dialogue is reminiscent of the late 18th century.

I finished your book with damp cheeks and a wobbly chin. Were you sad to reach the end of their correspondence? Are you tempted to further explore Austen’s characters?

Thank you for that, I still cry and laugh at certain parts (and I know what each letter contains). No, there was no sadness. It felt complete. In fact, one person in the industry recommended I add an extra 30,000 words and publishers might be interested. I said ‘no’, it was perfect as it was and I don’t care about word counts and watering down plots to get extra pages. It was about my two men and their tale had been told and was just right. Life is like that. Things don’t always go on, they finish when they finish. I am tempted to explore more Austen characters but will they ever be as light and easy to write as The Longbourn Letters– I doubt it but I will give it a go.

I was chuffed to discover that Austen’s first love was Irish. Tell me a little about Tom leFroy.

It was certainly a romance-of-sorts that had the potential to develop into something but his relations, seeing that ‘danger’ was afoot, separated them. He was the eldest of eleven children, whom he was obliged to support and so he was expected to ‘marry well’ and climb to the top of his career in law. This he did do.

Limerick has good cause then to join in the celebration of Jane Austen’s bicentenary. Tell me about the events you have planned.

They cover screen, theatre, fashion, music, dance, architecture and talks/workshops from July to December 2017. To name but a few, at this early stage, I can confirm that director Whit Stillman will be joining us for a screening of Love and Friendship with Q&A afterwards. The amazing Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh, Limerick woman and costume designer on Becoming Jane, Love and Friendship, Brideshead Revisited and many more, will be joining us. The Irish World Acadamy of Music & Dance collaborate with Sound Heritage Ireland to see music of the era come to life again in one of the Georgian manors in the region, the one-woman comedy Promise & Promiscuity is coming to theatres, a whole host of speakers and historical costumers are presenting at a number of incredibly popular afternoon tea events held at the wonderful Georgian hotel, No 1 Pery Square. There is more but please check this link for individual event details and for a full programme when finalised www.facebook.com/janeausten200limerick .

You can discover more about Rose and her book at these links:

Here’s a sweet little video clip summarising The Longbourn Letters.

I’m very grateful to Rose for taking the time to chat and for allowing me to delight once more in the delights of Longbourn.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Unmissable: Mister Memory by Marcus Sedgwick.

Mister Memory. Marcus Sedgwick. review.

The facts of the matter are these:
At a little after eight o’clock in the morning of the first Friday in June, Marcel Després landed in my postbox in the form of a book called Mister Memory by Marcus Sedgwick.

Mister Memory. Marcus Sedgwick. review.

I flicked, as I am wont to do, to the first page and read a paragraph.
And then another.
And didn’t stop, except to make coffee and point my family towards food, until I had read, and revelled in, the last paragraph. Click to read on.

Nurturing Activists of All Ages: Luis Sepulveda and Arundhati Roy.

Arundhati Roy. The God of Small Things. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

By complete coincidence, I recently reviewed two books written by authors with impressive histories of political and environmental activism.

Luis Sepúlveda‘s life story is one of breath-taking courage and adventure so it’s hardly any wonder that his book for children, The Story of a Snail Who Discovered the Importance of Being Slow inspires individual thinking and heroism.

I thought this was a fine story to read to young childrem. Read my review here.

Luis Sepulveda. The Importance of Being Slow.

Arundhati Roy‘s new book, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, was heralded as the most anticipated book of the decade. As one who was bowled over by The God of Small Things, I dived into this with high hopes. Read my review here.Arundhati Roy. The God of Small Things. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

What are you reading at the moment? I’d love to know.

Also, anyone know who stole the summer?


English, Paper One.

A super-quickie post today as I am on official exam taxi service duty with a fairly frantic schedule and extremely stressed customers. IMG_7548

My Small Girl made my day by handing me, for the first time, a little note of her own composition. Many years ago, I framed a note that Teenage Son gave me. A couple of years later I stuck a note from his little sister into the same frame. The third note followed about six years ago and now, finally, I have the complete set. One of the many reasons I love these notes, in this frame, is that they all have a bonus on the reverse side.

From youngest up:

Small Girl: I love you Mum.
Reverse: Shoes.

The girl is succinct, accurate and cleverly references our shared appreciation of good shoes.

Middle Daughter: Mommy you are the best Mammy in the world.
Reverse: lovely illustration of Mammy and girl in a heart.

A complete sweetheart who knows how to fit a world of love into one perfect sentence.

Teenage Daughter: I love you (with garden scene and bird in the sky).
Reverse: To mama, I had a lovey day. ps there is a pachr (picture) on the back

My kind, appreciative girl who has been artistically inclined from the beginning.

Teenage Son: Opin (open, the note was folded)
Top Sucrt (secret).
Tod Toyday Todoay
I say taic (thank) yoyu for letine (letting) me sleep wit you.
Reverse:Form (from) Markk
I love you Mammy. (accompanied by his habitually armless people)

This boy just came home from English, Paper One. He is, honestly, one of the smartest people I know. I just have to hope his examiner can see what I see.



Does that explain why my nerves are shredded?

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Elderflower Profusion.

It’s a bank holiday here, it’s raining in a fairly gentle manner, the teenagers are (they say) swotting for their exams which begin on Wednesday, and the small girls are sitting behind me watching Horrible Histories on a loop (it’s very funny).

I have nicked somebody’s headphones, for the sake of insulation from Terry Deary’s distracting puns, and am listening to Coldplay. Did you watch the Manchester concert last night? I was fiercely impressed by the spirit of it. It was respectful and uplifting, I thought, and appropriate. Not to even mention that thing Chris Martin does to a piano stool…

Ireland peaks in June. There’s enough sun, enough rain and enough hope of a glorious summer still to come. It’s a feeling so good you (or at least, I) want to bottle it. Which perhaps explains the frantic rush to preserve the scent of elderflowers.

But first, sad news. We had a death in the family. Kombucha with pink elder flowers. Second fermentation.

Alas, poor Scoby died. Or turned mouldy anyway and I, with a massive sigh of relief, held up a DNR notice. So, this bottle which was only marginally enhanced by the addition of pink elderflowers, was officially the last bottle of Kombucha to be fermented in this house.



Now, on to the good stuff.

First, a quick note on Elderflowers (Sambuca nigra). I have a young plant in the garden of a pink variety called Black Lace which has a lovely cut leaf and pink flower. I have been advised, however, that another variety called Black Beauty has a darker pink flower and makes and even darker cordial so that’s one to look out for at the garden centre. I was willing to sacrifice only a half dozen or so heads from our little plant so most of these recipes were made with bog standard wild Elderflower foraged from the river bank where we walk the dog. The rule of thumb is to take only what you can reach from the ground and leave the remainder for the bees and birds. The scent of Elderflower is potent; you don’t need much. And, it’s nice to go back for elderberries to make Autumn Pudding.

Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking is the book of the moment. It is a goldmine of recipes for anything you might forage, find or foster in your garden. If you want to sample some of the recipes, many have been included in Darina’s column in The Examiner (known locally as de paper) over the years. I’ve linked to those posts where I could find the relevant recipes.

I was pleased to discover that Elderflower Fizz (or Elderflower Champagne, same thing) counts as a fermented drink. Wahoo!

Drink up, it’s positively good for you.

It’s also dead easy to make although I have been warned that it is notoriously prone to spontaneous nocturnal explosion.

Elderflower fizz, or champagne.

The recipe says to wait two weeks but I suspect we will be popping a bottle before then. Can you see the fizz already ?! The recipe is here.Elderflower fizz.

The Fizz needs fairly rapid consumption so, for longer keeping, we made Elderflower Cordial. This was made with wild elderflowers and just one pink head added for a hint of colour.

Elderflower cordial.

With an abundance of elderflowers to hand we also made some Elderflower Medicinal Vinegar according to the recipe in Rebecca Sullivan’s Natural Home Book (reviewed, here). It’s really just apple cider vinegar with flowers in it. I have no idea what this might be good for, other the just admiring the prettiness of it. On that account I insisted on adding a few rose petals.Elderflower medicinal vinegar.

It does make me feel better, just to look at it.

Aaah, just came to Fix You. I loved that last night. Great choice.

So. Gooseberries.

I wasn’t really keeping an eye on them, it’s been wet and I wasn’t in the garden for a few days and then, wham, all of a sudden, the bushes were hanging to the ground with the weight of the berries. A proper bumper crop. I donned a protective long-sleeved denim shirt (don’t approach a gooseberry bush without one, says the voice of experience), brought a chair over, and a cup of coffee and picked and topped and tailed for ages and ages.

Picking gooseberries.

Those bushes sure don’t part easily with their fruit. I was impaled by several award-worthy thorns for my efforts.IMG_7436

Worth it though. Someone asked me recently how I know when the gooseberries are ready. According to the oracle that is Darina Allen, they are ready to cook with when you see the elderflowers blooming. I think they are ready when you can see the seeds though the skin or, in this case, when the bush can’t hold them up any longer. Or, they are probably ready when they are big enough to block out the sun.

Gooseberry big enough to block out the sun.

I only picked from the first to crop of our three bushes but had something in the region of 8 lbs of fruit and more to come. Eeek.

Darina Allen. Forgotten Skills of Cooking.

My first 4lb of gooseberries went to make Elderflower Gooseberry Compote. I love faffing about with a bit of muslin. Makes me feel like I’ve wandered into the kitchen at Longbourn. The recipe is here.

Gooseberry compote.

A word of caution here: I doubled the recipe but later realised that I need not have doubled the quantity of water. The result was a compote that was definitely too watery. I strained off some of the excess syrup and put it to good use. Here’s my very complex recipe:

Just add gin.

Elderflower and gooseberry gin cocktail.

SO good.

Onwards and jamwards. The recipe for Elderflower and Gooseberry Jam is here. I think it is my favourite jam ever but I tend to have exactly that thought every time I make jam. I actually don’t eat much jam. When I treat myself to toast, I like to savour the salty butter, but this jam is incredible in place of raspberry jam in this coconut pudding.

Elderflower and gooseberry jam.

With a boost of confidence (doubtless from the cocktail), I embarked on Elderflower Fritters. Something that Darina Allen does consistently in her books is tell you that you CAN do things and make things and, since the woman simply brooks no argument, you do.

These look wildly impressive. Well, I think they do. Elderflower Fritters.

Other than having to heat a pan of oil which always makes me nervous (I don’t have, or want, a deep fat fryer), they are easy peasy to make.

The recipe is here.

One flower head per person would be an appropriate serving.

Elderflower Fritters with Gooseberry Compote and whipped cream.

I’m not going to tell you how many I ate.

We’re not far from London or Manchester. As it happens, my in-laws flew into London on Friday night. What happens there could happen here. Geographical and cultural proximity makes it all the more horrifying. The layers of immunity are, one by one, being stripped away. It gets scarier. And then you think, to be scared is to let them win. To be honest, I’m trying not to think about it.

Whatever happens, life goes on. Gooseberries ripen. Elderflowers wilt. All we can do, I think, is keep our chins up and keep living.

If you want your spine tingled, try this:

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

I’m delighted to join in the celebration of all things glorious in the garden Old House in the Shires.