Gooseberries: Still to this day known colloquially in rural parts of England as Fea-berry, the gooseberry has a rich and lengthy history in British cuisine, becoming a staple ingredient in sweet and savoury dishes from Elizabethan times.
Thriving in our moderate temperatures, along with its fellow ‘currant’ family members; blackcurrants, redcurrants and white currants, gooseberries have long been found in British hedgerows and sunny orchards as well as having indigenous root in many parts of Europe and western Asia.
This hardy berry does not require tremendous amounts of sunshine – explaining its rather sour flavour and firm texture – but as the season progresses into late summer, its vibrant green coloration turns to a sweeter-eating yellow or even red varieties.
Seasonal period: May to September
Flavour friends: The richness of oily fish makes gooseberries perfect for lightening up mackerel or trout-based dishes. Its slight acidity is ideal for enhancing the fish’s flavour without overpowering. For sweet dishes, elderflower is a classic seasonal combination, bringing out the flowery undertones of this fruit. Apple is also great for offering a hint of sweetness but encourage the berry’s freshness. Gooseberry also makes for a great contrast to creamy flavours, working well not only with dairy products but also nuts such as almonds and hazelnuts.
Buying, storing and preparing: When looking for gooseberries to cook, the early season variety are best, with their firm texture and sour taste. The skins should be vibrant green, appear slight veiny and with small hairs. Pick gooseberries that are slightly underripe, relatively firm to touch (but not rock solid) and without discolouration. They can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.
Wash thoroughly before snipping off either end using scissors unless you are cooking and subsequently sieving the gooseberries.
Cooking: Late season gooseberries (yellow and red varieties) can be eaten raw. Simply top and tail and wash. Alternatively, the more sour varieties are best poached in a sweet liquor to help soften and sweeten the berries.
Poached: Poach in water or a flavoured cooking liquor along with a little sugar for approximately 7 – 10 minutes. Keep the berries whole and use in pies, tarts and crumbles, otherwise, puree and use in desserts or on savoury dishes.
Wood-Fired Mackerel with Gooseberry, Apple & Vanilla Purée
Gooseberry Fool with Elderflower and Prosecco Jelly
Gooseberry Flapjack Crumble
Gluten-Free Gooseberry, Saffron and Rapeseed Oil Cake
Fried Polenta and Goat’s Cheese with Gooseberry and Chilli Relish
Words by Helen Upshall