Gooseberries are ripening at the moment and I have just picked a basket of sweet red ones. We've always had them in the garden but the red ones are a recent addition and they are lovely. Years ago Gooseberries were so popular that Gooseberry Clubs flourished in the north of England, mainly in Cheshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire and the Midlands. These clubs organised annual shows where the largest and heaviest Gooseberries won prizes such as copper kettles and brass pans. At their height in 1845 there were over 170 Clubs in existence and some of the Gooseberries shown were the size of plums!
Gooseberry bushes can attain great age and size. In 1821, at Duffield, near Derby, a bush had been planted for at least 46 years, and was 12 yards in circumference, while two, trained against a wall near Chesterfield, reached upwards of 50 feet in growth from end to end.
Size wasn't the Gooseberry's only claim to fame, colour was too. As enthusiasts selected seeds for cultivation Gooseberries were developed with purplish red, blue, greenish white and yellow shades.
Gooseberries were first grown in Britain in the 16th century and had medicinal uses – they were recommended to plague victims in London. The Gooseberry is quite high in Vitamin C so perhaps this helped its reputation as a cure. Gooseberries often grow wild in Britain in copses and hedgerows – they are actually members of the currant family, Ribes. Folklore has it that fairies would shelter from danger in the prickly bushes and hence Gooseberries became known as 'fayberries.''
No one really knows where they acquired the name 'Gooseberry' from. Some say it's because it was once customary to send out a chaperone with young lovers to make sure they didn't get up to any mischief and more often than not the chaperone would make themselves scarce by going off to pick Gooseberries. Perhaps this is where we get the sayings of 'to play gooseberry' and 'born under a gooseberry bush' from?
Gooseberries have been used in the kitchen in lots of different ways – as jams and jellies, chutney’s, pies and crumbles, in home made wine making and in sauces for fish (they are great with mackerel). One of the oldest Gooseberry desserts is the Gooseberry Fool which dates back to 1598.
4 tbsp caster sugar
300ml double cream
handful of gooseberries and flaked almonds for garnish.
Top and tail the gooseberries and add them to a saucepan with the caster sugar and a little water (not too much, a few tablespoons of water will do). Simmer until the gooseberries have popped and burst. Remove from the heat to cool – chill in the fridge if necessary. If you want a smooth Fool then sieve the gooseberry mixture to remove the pips and skins. You can also set aside some of the mix to serve as a base for the Fool if you prefer.
Whip the double cream until it is thick and will stand in peaks, Fold in the gooseberry mixture. Serve chilled with a sprinkling of gooseberries and flaked almonds as a garnish.
'Gooseberry' is a commonly used flavour descriptor for wines made with the Sauvignon Blanc grape, especially if they come from cooler climates. The Gooseberry's flavour is tart but tangy-sweet and its fragrance is a little like an unripe grape. A good example of a wine expressing a gooseberry flavour is Chateau Le Rondailh 2011 (red gooseberry). The blend of grapes used in the wine are 20% Semillon and 80% Sauvignon Blanc and it comes from Saint Macaire in Bordeaux.