Gooseberries are a favorite fruit for pies, cobblers, jams, and jellies. Like rhubarb, gooseberries can have an intensely tart flavor that, most people agree, requires plenty of sugar to balance.
Many say the fruits are best picked when they’re still green and have the punchiest sour flavor. Other people prefer the ripe reddish or purplish berries, which lack the tangy tartness. In any given recipe, green gooseberries may easily require twice as much sugar as the darker, ripe ones.
Because birds and other animals also like gooseberries, green ones may be the only kind you can find.
When you’re picking gooseberries, part of the stem usually pulls off with the berry; plus, a little dried “point” usually remains on the other end of the berry (it’s what’s left of the flower). Both the stems and the flower remnants must be plucked off of each berry before it can be used. The fact that people gladly do this labor attests to how much they enjoy the flavor of gooseberries.
If your gooseberry recipe involves cooking the berries, you may strain the cooked berries through a sieve or food mill to remove the stems, seeds, and other bits, creating a smooth purée that can be mixed with sugar. You can use this if you’re making a frozen yogurt or sorbet or are folding it into whipped cream to make a dessert called a “fool.”
Green gooseberries make a delicate, crystal-clear pink jelly that is ambrosial on biscuits and other hot breads. Gooseberry jam is equally tasty but can have a much different texture. It is possible to make jelly and jam at the same time by pouring off the berries’ cooking water and using a small amount of powdered fruit pectin and sugar to turn that into jelly, and then straining the berries and using their pulp, plus sugar, to make jam. Some people don’t strain the berries for jam, producing a chewier, seedier spread.
More adventuresome cooks can create gooseberry relishes, conserves, chutneys, cream cheese spreads, salsas, and meat, poultry, and fish sauces, as well as sodas, cocktails, and other beverages.
Gooseberry leaves may be used raw, in a tossed salad or in slaw, and the young dried leaves may be used for making tea. Pick the young leaves and allow three months to dry. To make tea, add a teaspoon of crushed gooseberry leaves to one cup of hot water, and let it steep several minutes.
Another name for this fruit is feverberry, because a tea made with the crushed berries was believed to help break a fever. Try a teaspoon to one cup of hot water (adding a sweetener is probably a good idea here).
Globally, there are about 150 species in genus Ribes, and they are often divided (in an oversimplified way) into “currants” (with jointed flower stalks) and “gooseberries” (with unjointed flower stalks). Numerous cultivated strains of currants and gooseberries have been developed by plant breeders. Favorite cultivated gooseberries usually are derived from the Old World species R. uva-crispa (sometimes called R. grossularia), which is often hybridized with the North American species R. hirtellum (often called the American or hairy-stem gooseberry, it is not native to Missouri).
For many decades, students and alumni of Columbia, Missouri's Hickman High School have cheered their sports teams by chanting "Strawberry shortcake, gooseberry pie! V-I-C-T-O-R-Y! Are we it? Well I guess yes! We're the Kewpies of HHS!"