Not to be trifled with


Gooseberries and elderflower make an unusual and delicious summer trifle, writes EUNICE POWER

GOOSEBERRY AND ELDER are great friends – often seen together in many different guises, be it jam, chutney, compotes, even vodka. In my garden the elder grows behind the gooseberry bush, both keeping a watchful eye on each others’ progress and then blossoming and ripening together in June, as orchestrated by mother nature.

My first encounter with gooseberries was picking them for my neighbours, who grew them on a small commercial basis.I grow my own gooseberries now and I love them, nothing can quite compare to their crisp tartness. Teamed with the delicacy of the fragrant elderflower blossom, the gooseberry is lifted to aromatic heights.

I make gallons of elderflower syrup which I use throughout the year as a cordial, a syrup for poaching gooseberries and for making elderflower blinis. Rumour has it that the cordial is a great cure for hangovers.

I recently catered for an opera at the magnificent Lismore Castle and offered trifle as dessert. The reaction was fantastic. Irish people, men in particular, love trifle and why wouldn’t they, with its decadent layers of sponge and custard, with fruit sandwiched in between, all finished off with a dollop of cream.

So unearth those crystal bowls – wedding gifts, golf prizes and family heirlooms – and start to trifle with trifle. Making a trifle isn’t an exact science and much depends on the size of your bowl.

Elderflower syrup

You can buy readymade elderflower cordial, but I prefer to make my own.

20 heads of elderflower

1.8 kg granulated sugar, or caster sugar

1.2 litres water

2 lemons, sliced

75g citric acid

Shake the elderflowers to get rid of any lingering creepy crawlies and put them into a bucket with the sliced lemons. Put the sugar into a saucepan with the water and bring it up to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the boiling syrup over the elderflowers and then stir in the citric acid. Cover with a cloth and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.

Next day, strain the cordial through a sieve lined with muslin. Be careful not to push the syrup through the muslin, let it drip naturally, otherwise your syrup will be cloudy. Pour the liquid into sterilised glass bottles. (To sterilise the bottles wash them and let them dry out in the oven at 100 degrees/gas ¼. Allow them to cool down before use.) Screw on the lids and pop them into the cupboard ready to use.


3 large eggs

85g caster sugar

85g flour

I tend to make a gluten-free sponge when making trifle, as I find it lighter. Beat the eggs and caster sugar together in an electric mixer until mousse-like in texture, this will take about 10 minutes.

While this is going on, pre-heat an oven to 170 degrees/gas 3. Line the bottom and grease the sides of a 23-centimetre sandwich tin.

Sieve the flour (I use Doves Farm gluten-free flour), then, using a metal spoon, fold the flour into the mixture. Be gentle as you don’t want to knock the air out of the sponge. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 20 minutes. When cooked, turn the cake onto a wire rack to cool.


Making your own custard is a little bit indulgent – but well worth it.

480ml cream

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

65g caster sugar

5 large egg yolks

Heat the cream, vanilla and sugar together in a medium-sized saucepan until almost boiling. Take the pot off the heat and allow the mixture to cool a little, then whisk in the egg yolks. Return the pot to the cooker and over a gentle heat whisk the custard until it starts to thicken – do not allow it to boil as this will cause the eggs to curdle.

I find that whisking the custard while it is cooking gives it a light, foamy texture. When it is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon remove from the heat and it allow to cool. The custard will thicken a little more as it cools.

Gooseberry and elderflower compote

1 kg gooseberries

250ml elderflower cordial

Poach the gooseberries in the syrup until the berries burst. Allow to cool.

To assemble

250mls whipped cream

Split your sponge in half, put a layer of sponge at the bottom of your bowl. Spoon half the gooseberry and elderflower compote over the sponge, then half the custard over the gooseberries, followed by a second layer of sponge, gooseberries and custard. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave it for a few hours, or overnight, allowing the sponge to soak up the liquid and the flavours to mingle.

Just before serving, spoon the whipped cream on top and decorate with elderflower blossom.

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