Stoke has a friendly vibe and the pace of life feels just right. Cars seem to be an avenue of choice for locals to express themselves. First, we pulled up beside a car sporting an eclectic mix of Blackcaps flags, a back window filled with soft toys, and a sign that read “retired and happy spending the kids inheritance”. Then we got stuck behind a van going half the speed limit with a cheerful sign that passive-aggressively told us to “enjoy the view”. Living against the grain of social expectation is done in a pretty happy-go-lucky way in this part of the country.
We pulled up outside the Stoke Bakery, located on the main road through town.
Having refused to put on his sandals, my son jumped barefoot out of the car. One of the nice things about the casual New Zealand summer ethos is being able to walk barefoot into any shop and no one bats an eyelid. But in the midst of a national heatwave, it’s not always the best option. With concrete hot enough to fry an egg on, Christian jumped from the pavement back into the car. The pie decisions were now mine alone.
In the peak heat of mid afternoon, a hot pie didn’t appeal, despite the bakery’s good selection.
So I opted for a gooseberry pie from the sweet cabinet. The pastry reminded me of a good apple square slice, crumbly – almost a shortbread – and not too sweet.
The filling was deliciously tart and sticky, stewed gently to concentrate the distinctive gooseberry flavor, but not so long as to eliminate the shape and texture of the whole gooseberries.
Normally a pie like this would be better slightly warmed to freshen the pastry and bring out the sugars. But in this heat, in a car with a pretty lackluster aircon, it was refreshing to eat it at a cool temperature that enhanced the sour flavors.
Gooseberry pies are hard to find these days, and this one is a worthy representative of a classic dish. My Aunty Chrissy – renowned in our family for her gooseberry pie – would certainly approve.