Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Gooseberries — an uncommon fruit

My husband just started harvesting Gooseberries – the photo is a sampling of his harvest. Gooseberries are one of those fruits that we do not see much in the US. The typical supermarket is probably not going to carry them except as a canned item and then, they might only be available around the holidays. You might find them in a good farmer’s market although I suspect that will also be hit or miss.

Although gooseberries are fairly popular in Britain, most Americans have probably never tried them. One of the reasons is undoubtedly because until the 1960s, there had been a federal ban on growing them as well as their relative, currants.

In the early 1800s, they were extremely popular in Europe and this popularity also brought them to the US. In the early 1900s, growing of gooseberries and currants was banned due to a fungal disease known as “white pine blister rust”. Although the disease does minimal damage to the fruits, it is fatal to the white pine trees. As more disease-resistant gooseberry/currant plants were propagated, the federal ban was shifted to the individual states in the mid-1960s. Most states once again allowed the production although there are still some states where it is banned, mostly those in the east where white pines are an important part of the economy. The only state-by-state listing I could find was from 2015. It is recommended to be sure to check with your local extension office for the latest guidance.

There are two main types of gooseberry plants and both are of the genus Ribes.

  • American gooseberry (Ribes hirtellum) – This variety produces smaller fruits that are more resistant to mildew. The plants are usually healthier and more productive. It is native to northeastern and north-central US and the adjacent Canadian regions.
  • European gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa) – This variety yields larger fruit that is also said to be more flavorful. It is native to the Caucasus Mountains and North Africa.
  • Other plants that use the name gooseberry but are distinctively different include Cape gooseberry, Chinese gooseberry (kiwi) and Indian gooseberry.

The time for finding fresh gooseberries in your market (or harvesting them yourself), is from early June to early August. Early in the season, the fruit will be green with a veined skin. They will be firm and very tart. These are not normally eaten raw but rather cooked so they can be sweetened and then used in sweet or savory dishes. Those that ripen a bit later produce softer and sweeter fruit that can be yellow or red and are good eaten raw.

If you have the good fortune of finding fresh gooseberries, they do require just a bit of prep work. After rinsing them, they should be topped and tailed with a scissors. They are one of the most shelf-stable berries and will keep in your refrigerator in a covered container for at least a week and possibly up to three weeks. For longer storage, they freeze extremely well.

What can you do with them? As I mentioned, they can be used in both sweet and savory applications. As everyone’s palate is different and the actual gooseberries may vary in tartness, getting them to the proper sweetness is something you need to do bit by bit. One recommendation is to start with two parts gooseberries to one part sugar and then adjust to your taste.

Here are a few ideas.

  • Jam
  • Jelly
  • Compote
  • Chutney
  • Pie
  • Ice cream and sorbet
  • Beverages such as lemonade, cordials or cocktails.
  • Trifle
  • British Fool
  • They pair extremely well with seasonal fruit such as elderflowers and strawberries.

My husband’s preferred way is to make them into a gooseberry pie. This recipe from a working farm in New York called Beekman 1802 uses fresh ginger and orange in the flavoring and is delicious.

Have you tried gooseberries? Where do you get them? Do you grow them? What is your favorite way to use them? If you have never tried them, I encourage you to seek them out although I must admit it may be difficult unless you have a wonderful farmer husband as I do!