This post is specially for Jenni from Rainy Day Gardener who said in a recent post that she was unfamiliar with gooseberries. So here’s probably more information than Jenni really wanted. If you are very familiar with gooseberries then you could just skip this post!
Gooseberry is a strange name and there seems to be no clear idea of where the name came from - it certainly doesn't appear to have anything to do with geese.
Gooseberries are related to the currant family, which explains why it was possible to cross a gooseberry with a blackcurrant to create a jostaberry.
It’s likely that the first thing anyone will tell you about gooseberry bushes (other than that babies are found under them) is that most varieties have evil spikes growing up the stems. Picking gooseberries can be a painful activity.
Advice is to try and make life easier for a gooseberry picker by pruning the bush into what is often described as an open goblet shape. The idea is to cut out the branches in the centre of the bush and also thin out the rest of the stems so that you can get your hand in without it coming out scratched to pieces. The open effect also allows air to circulate to try and avoid the plants suffering from mildew. Funnily enough, even though gooseberries don’t seem to be popular in the USA, the mildew that affects gooseberries is called American gooseberry mildew. Most modern varieties have some degree of mildew resistance. The bushes can also be attacked by gooseberry sawfly larva which can devastate a plant very quickly.
Gooseberry flowers are fairly insignificant to our eyes as they are small and have no petals but in April the bees and other pollinating insects love them.
Young gooseberry fruits are covered in soft spines . Some fully ripe fruits are smooth skinned but many keep the hairy spines which sounds awful but really you don’t notice them when you eat a gooseberry. All young gooseberries are green, once ripe some remain green and others become yellow or reddish.
The gooseberry fruit is about the size of a large grape but has a thicker skin and a firmer texture. Inside the fruit are seeds arranged a bit like the seeds inside a tomato or a kiwi. It’s difficult to describe the taste but I guess the nearest comparison would be a firm grape with edible seeds. Can anyone give a better description of the taste?
There are lots of varieties of gooseberries - all ours are dessert varieties which means that they are sweet enough (for us anyway) to eat raw although you can also cook with them. There are other tarter varieties that really need to be used in cooking. Generally though if you pick the berries early even the dessert varieties will be tart. I usually give the berry a little squeeze and if it is is a little soft I pick one off and taste it to see if it is sweet enough to eat.
Gooseberries can be made into desserts such as pies, fools and crumbles or jams, and chutneys, and you can even use them to make a sauce to eat with meat such as pork or fish such as mackerel. I think the French translation of gooseberry is groseille à maquereau which translates something like mackerel currant.
By the way playing gooseberry means you are the third person in a group where the other two only really want to be alone!