There is something quintessentially English about gooseberries, or goosegogs as we called them as children. They remain one of our few truly seasonal fruits, enjoying their heyday in the early 1800s when the industrial north was a hotbed of working men's gooseberry clubs. As the late garden writer Edward Bunyard stated somewhat snootily in The Anatomy of Dessert, "The plebian origin of the Gooseberry has been, I fear, a handicap to its appreciation at cultured tables." He goes on to say, quite rightly, that if the flavour were found in a tropical fruit, it "would be exalted in the most fervent language".
Gooseberries often get a bad press, but they are not necessarily green or sour or bristling with hairs. Some are as smooth and taut as an inflated balloon, others are soft and downy. Some are a strange milky white, others look like lemon drops, and there are those that are a deep exotic red.
Like apples and plums, gooseberries are classified as cooking or dessert, though the boundaries are somewhat blurred. Cooking gooseberries are the first on the scene, signalling, as they do, the possibility of summer. Dessert gooseberries, either green or red, are harvested later; they may be a dedicated variety, or a cooking variety left longer on the bush to sweeten. They are larger and softer, irresistibly juicy and sweet, with an almost translucent skin.
Gooseberries are natural candidates for jams and jellies, pickles and chutneys, and they also make excellent ice cream. They are tamed by elderflower and the comforting blandness of pastry or cream – delicious in a pie or cake, or combined with elderflowers in a creamy fool. Moving on to savoury things, their tart grassy flavour makes a pleasantly sharp sauce for fatty fish such as mackerel or salmon.
Gooseberries are at their best now, so do try them while you have the chance. Check out my recipe for Gooseberries with Orange and Bay Syrup. It's very little trouble to make, apart from topping and tailing, that is, and would make a delicious ending to a beautiful summer dinner – socially distanced of course.
Cooking gooseberries: late May–mid-July
Dessert gooseberries: July–August
© Christine McFadden, July 2022