Gooseberries are available throughout the world and are especially popular in Europe, but are one of the lesser-known berries in the U.S., even though they're native to North America. These tart, flavorful berries are perfectly suited to making pies, cobblers, and compotes, as well as a range of other sweet treats. They are small, have a similar shape to a grape, and vary in color. Although they can be eaten out of hand, because they are tart, gooseberries are best when cooked along with sugar.
What Are Gooseberries?
Gooseberries are from the same family as currants, and range in size from half an inch to about an inch in diameter. They can have a smooth surface or a slightly fuzzy exterior, the translucent skin sometimes featuring stripes, sometimes not. The berries come in a variety of colors, including yellow, red, pink, green, and purple, and the darker the color, the sweeter the taste. The berries are sold with a "top and tail," which are the stem and the flower ends respectively, and have a center filled with small seeds.
For most of the first half of the 20th century, beginning in 1911, gooseberries were banned in the United States because they were an intermediary host of a plant disease that infected pine trees. The federal ban was lifted in 1966 with the advent of disease-resistant varieties of gooseberries, but some states, particularly in the Northeast, still restrict some or all gooseberry varieties.
Gooseberries are naturally tart, so the best ways to use them involves cooking them with added sugar to make pie fillings, jams, syrups, preserves, cobblers, jellies, and sauces.
How to Cook With Gooseberries
Before incorporating gooseberries into recipes, you need to "top-and-tail" them, which means removing the dark, tough stalk (the "top") from one end and the dried flower remains (the "tail") from the other. The stem pops off easily but the tails need to be cut off with a knife. The gooseberries then need to be washed.
The fruit is best known for gooseberry pie, which calls for green, unripe gooseberries. The berries are halved, cooked in a skillet along with some sugar and butter until the sugar dissolves, and then thickened with some type of starch, such as tapioca.
Gooseberries are also a wonderful choice for making a sweet and savory chutney. The gooseberries can be combined with onions, vinegar, and various seasonings and then simmered until thick (the gooseberries release their natural pectin). Once cooled, the chutney is served with cheese and crackers or as a condiment.
What Do They Taste Like?
Gooseberries have a tart flavor, although they do sweeten somewhat as they ripen. Compared to the green gooseberries, the red and purple varieties are significantly sweeter, and they take on a winey, grapelike flavor as they ripen. In general, gooseberries taste like a sour grape, or a bit like rhubarb, which is itself highly prized in baking and desserts, but on its own is too sour for most people's palates.
Gooseberries can be baked into pies, made into chutneys, compotes, and relishes, or even juiced to make a nutritious drink.
Where to Buy Gooseberries
If you live in a state with no restrictions on gooseberries, you can find them at farmers' markets or possibly at the supermarket. Gooseberries may also be found in Indian grocers, where they are known as amla, in the produce and freezer sections. The gooseberry season runs from May until August, with the peak coming during the month of July.
You may come across canned gooseberries, as well as gooseberry pie filling and syrup, which will contain added sugar.
Fresh gooseberries will keep for up to three weeks in a covered container in the refrigerator. You can also freeze them. The best method is to spread them out on a sheet pan and freeze; once frozen, place them in a plastic freezer bag and store for up to 12 months.