Children do not much care for gooseberries. As a child, I thought them an inferior fruit. In part, this was because of their color: pale green, while I thought that a real berry ought to be red. Also, they were extremely sour: so sour, indeed, that—as the Germans say—they draw the holes in your socks together. For some reason that I now cannot recall, I conceived the idea early in my life that it was weak and ignoble to sweeten fruit with sugar. Even now I experience a vague feeling of guilt on doing so. If God created gooseberries sour, it was because He wanted them eaten sour.

Gooseberries were always served in the England of my childhood with custard, a disgusting yellow concoction with lumps in it and a skin that sent shivers down your spine. The lumps and skin were evidently regarded in the same light as outdoor team games in inclement weather: that is to say, they were character-building. Meals in Engla ...