A Gooseberry Compote Kind of Day
It feels strange to be writing about gardens on such an important day in our nation’s history. But then again, while important things are roiling our nation, we must still take the days one at a time, do what we can for our cause, and tend to the things closest to us.
So, I’m going to continue on, blogging about the garden, and thinking about growing things. In one way, just making the transition from listening to the news, to thinking about things in my garden, gives me a sense of peace. Maybe it can do that for you too.
Today I want to talk about Gooseberries! Gooseberries are ubiquitous up here in my Sequoia backyard. In fact, I have several fruiting bushes in my front yard right now. They are quite the story.
Gooseberries are a small red or green berry on a rather straggly bush that can grow up to 5 feet tall. Up here in the Sequoias, however, the bushes are rarely more than 3 feet tall, and the berries are always red when ripe. But oh boy, they are NOT a friendly little berry, I can tell you that. Harvesting berries, which for me should happen in about a month, is a treacherous endeavor that requires heavy gloves. Take a look at the first picture above and you can see why! They have long spiny needles protruding from every berry, almost like a puffer fish. And they hurt when they prick you! They have spiny stems, as well, so walking through them in shorts is also not a good idea.
Gooseberries are not as unfriendly in other parts of the world, though. Take a look at these two pictures. I can only dream of easy pickings like this.
Indigenous to Europe and Western Asia, gooseberries have been around for a long time. There’s mention of them in a 16th century English herbal text, and by the 18th century, it’s clear from the literature that gooseberries were a favorite of the British Isles. It appears that gooseberries were initially also used for medicinal purposes, because of the “cooling properties of its acid juices in fevers.” (I wouldn’t try it!)
Gooseberries seem to like the climate of Britain and Scotland better than many places. They can often be found growing wild around old ruins. I love that image. They are also found in Norway, Holland, and even in parts of China—growing wild as far north as 63 degrees latitude, nearly to the Arctic Circle. That’s probably why they like it here in the Sierras. Gooseberries experts say that the flavor improves with the increasing latitude.
Here’s the downside. The Sierra berries are so prickly, and spiny, that you have to harvest barrels of them to get enough to make it worth your while. And then when you do, it’s not possible to pop them in to a Dutch Oven with a little water and start making jam. After boiling, one must go through the laborious process of pressing the fruits through a fine strainer because…those spines!!!!
But here’s the upside. Delicious. They have a very unique flavor, and I always add in another juicier, more friendly fruit, like plums, apricots, strawberries, whatever I have on hand. The softer, more mellow fruit, plus a little sugar, combined with the tartness of the gooseberry, is just delightful.
My girls have had gooseberry compote here at the cabin, and I’m not sure that they recommend it – but I know that they remember it! And their mother loved it. So that counts.
On a day like today, it feels good to remember gooseberry compote days. I hope to have many more.