Thursday, June 30

Playing gooseberry

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!


  1. Very interesting post Sue. I knew nothing about gooseberries. As you said, they are not popular here.

  2. I have always wondered where the saying...'I don't want to be a gooseberry' came from....any ideas??

  3. I wonder why they are not popular in the US Robin.

    I looked this up Tanya and the best explanation I could find was that in the early 19 century a chaperone kept themselves occupied by picking gooseberries leaving the couple to a little privacy.

    Another explanation is that gooseberry was a name given to the devil so the third person is as unwelcome as the devil! Anyone found any other explanation?

  4. It's a long time since I tried gooseberries, and I didn't like them. Perhaps I should try them again, my taste seems to have changed since I've got older.

  5. Ah now I understand more about gooseberry. I wonder if it tolerate tropical weather well. Imagine the monkeys having a hard time stealing them because of the spike.

  6. Haha, I love the last line.

    Great post. I don't know that much about growing gooseberries but I know plenty about eating them.

    We bought some from a farm shop earlier, they are delicious. (Were delicious)

    Martin :)

  7. The varieties of gooseberries have changed too Jo, The fruit is much sweeter if allowed to fully ripen.

    Gooseberries need a temperate climate Diana so I think the monkeys will be safe!

    Glad you found it interesting Martin.

  8. They're not very popular in the US because they don't taste very nice? Or maybe that's just me ;>) Which is a shame as we have one bush which is prolific but it is the one fruit I'm prepared to share with the blackbirds. Quite why I'm propagating them from cutting last year is beyond me...?!

  9. I haven't had gooseberries since I was little - maybe it's time to rediscover them? Love 'n' hugs, Mel xx

  10. Maybe it's the variety you have Rob - ours are delicious - or is it me? :)

    They are definitely a blast from childhood aren't they Mel? But the ones I remember from way back then were really sour!

  11. Great post Sue, even for those of us who don't have any gooseberries! I did grow some for a couple of years, but they often suffered from diseases, and I was the only person in my family that liked them - so they were replaced by other things.

  12. Sue, it definitely isn't just you. I have been having stewed gooseberries with greek yoghurt for breakfast every day for a couple of weeks now. Yummy! Have a good weekend. x

  13. I enjoyed reading your gooseberry post, and great photos too. I have a gooseberry plant that was planted within a border hedgerow by the previous owners (strange location?). Your article was great, thanks. Kelli

  14. Pity you don't live near to me Mark or I could provide you with a few.

    That's one of the ways we like to eat them too Fran.

    Maybe the previous owners thought the thorns made a good boundary, Kelli but it must be a pain literally to pick the berries. You could try taking a few cuttings.

  15. I saw some gooseberry cuttings in the nursery today.

  16. So maybe they will grow in your area Diana - strange as everything I have read says need a temperate climate. Maybe worth trying in a pot!

  17. The best pics I have seen, nice blog. Can I invite you to my 'gooseberries' group on facebook ? Eric

    1. Thanks for the invitation Eric but to be honest I'm not a fan of Facebook. I started using it and sort of got bored.