On the top, well wrapped up in tissue paper, was a birthday cake, a huge one with Victoria written in pink sugar on the white icing and two large cherries in the middle, because Vicky was two years old. Then there was a cold chicken. Then there was a salad in a big pudding-basin. Then there was an enormous gooseberry tart. Then there was a melon...
Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome, The Birthday Party
There's something truly wonderful about an English summer, especially in the countryside. Thus far this year, I have not had much opportunity to enjoy time outside of London (bar a one day excursion to the Devon seaside), but the long days, fields of green, cool evenings and bright blue skies are hard to beat. I still prefer winter, but as someone who grew up hating summer - it is borderline unbearable in Brisbane - I've found myself charmed by summer in my adopted country. I am particularly attached to those fruits and vegetables that appear only in these warmer months; asparagus, plums, tomatoes and gooseberries grace my plate with alarming regularity while they're in pride of place at my local greengrocer.
Until I can find time to escape London and lie in a field somewhere with a book, I will be living vicariously through the Swallows and Amazons. This lovely novel captures a magical summer spent by a group of children as they sail their boats, enjoy picnics and explore a series of tiny islands in the Lake District. It's the childhood I would go back in time and have if I could - escaping home for days and camping with my sister and a picnic basket full of food. In the absence of time travel, I decided to make a gooseberry tart instead.
250g plain flour
30g icing sugar
Pinch of salt
125g cold butter
1 egg yolk
1tbsp cold water
200ml double cream
1tsp elderflower cordial
20cm tart case (at least 2.5cm deep)
1. First, make your pastry. Put the flour, salt and icing sugar in a bowl and chop the butter into small cubes. Toss the butter in the flour and then rub together with your fingertips (not your palms - you want to keep everything cool) until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and mix with your hand, until the pastry comes together. If you need more liquid, add a very small amount of the iced water. Don't overwork the dough; as soon as it has come together, wrap it in cling film and place it in the fridge.
2. After an hour in the fridge, place the pastry between two pieces of greaseproof paper. Roll it out until it is large enough to fit in your tart tin, with a bit of overhang. Move into the tin, easing the pastry into the corners, and ensuring it is pressed into the ridges. Trim the edge with a small, sharp knife and prick the base with a fork. Lay a sheet of greaseproof paper (one of the ones you rolled it between would work) in the base and fill it with rice or dried beans. Return the tart case to the fridge for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C and place a baking tray in the oven to heat up.
3. Place the tart in the oven, on the baking tray, and bake for 15 minutes. After this time, remove the greaseproof paper and beans and return the pastry to the oven for an additional five minutes, until dry and golden.
4. While the pastry is in the oven, prepare the filling. In a mixing jug or bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the honey until combined. Whisk in the cream and cordial. Trim the tops off the gooseberries.
5. When the tart case is baked, tip the gooseberries into it. Fill it up with the custard, being careful not to completely submerge the fruit. Bake for 40 minutes, until the custard is set in the middle. Allow to cool for ten minutes in the tin, and then 30 minutes on a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar, wrap in greaseproof paper and a cloth, and add to your picnic basket.