Gooseberries are one of the less well-known berries in the U.S. even though they're native to North America. This is due in part to their complicated history which involved them being banned in the United States for more than 50 years. The tart, flavorful berry is perfectly suited to making pies, cobblers, and compotes, as well as a range of other sweet treats.
What Are Gooseberries?
Gooseberries are a small tart fruit that range in size from half an inch to about an inch in diameter, with a slightly oblong shape rather like a grape. They can have a smooth surface or a slightly fuzzy exterior, sometimes featuring stripes, sometimes not. Gooseberries are from the same family as currants, and they come in a variety of colors, including yellow, red, pink, green, and purple.
Note that gooseberries are not related to zante currants. True currants, which include gooseberries, are members of the Ribes family of flowering shrubs that thrive in northern climates with warm summers and cold winters. Zante currants, on the other hand, which typically are sold in their dried form, are members of the grape family and they are in fact tiny raisins.
How to Use Gooseberries
Gooseberries are naturally tart, so the best ways to use them involve cooking them with added sugar to make pie fillings, jams, syrups, preserves, cobblers, jellies, and sauces. Gooseberries have stems and tails that need to be removed before using them.
To make a gooseberry pie, you'd start with green, unripe gooseberries, remove the stems and tails, then halve the berries lengthwise and cook them in a skillet along with some sugar and butter until the sugar dissolves, then thicken with some type of starch, such as tapioca.
Gooseberries are also a wonderful choice for making a sweet and savory chutney. The gooseberries are combined with onions, vinegar, salt, brown sugar and various seasonings including bay leaves, coriander seeds and mustard seeds, and the entire mixture simmered until it thickens as the gooseberries release their natural pectin. Then it's cooled and served with with cheese and crackers.
What Do They Taste Like?
Gooseberries have a tart flavor, although they do sweeten somewhat as they ripen. Additionally, the red and purple varieties are significantly sweeter, and they take on a winey, grapelike flavor as they ripen.
In general, though, gooseberries taste like a sour grape, or a bit like rhubarb, which is itself highly prized in baking and desserts such as pies and compotes, but on its own is too sour for most people's palates.
Bake gooseberries into pies, use them to make chutnies, compotes, and relishes, or even juice them.
Where to Buy Gooseberries
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, including Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and West Virginia, still restrict or ban some or all gooseberry varieties.
If you live in a state with no restrictions on gooseberries, you can find them at farmers' markets or at the supermarket. The gooseberry season runs from May until August, with their peak coming during the month of July.
Nutrition and Benefits
A one cup (150 grams) serving of gooseberries consists of 132 grams of water or about 88 percent of its weight. It also provides 66 calories, 1.32 grams of protein and .87 grams of fat, with a total of 15.3 grams of carbs and 6.45 grams of dietary fiber.
A cup of gooseberries provides 41.6 milligrams of vitamin C, which is the equivalent of nearly half (48.8 percent) of the recommended daily value.
Fresh gooseberries will keep for up to three weeks in a covered container in the refrigerator. You can also freeze them, with the best method being to spread them out on a sheet pan and freeze them on the pan. Once frozen, gather them into a plastic freezer bag and keep them in the freezer for up to 12 months.