A quintessentially British summer fruit
Gooseberries denote two entirely contrasting things: social awkwardness, and 19th -century rural England. The former, supposedly, is a remnant of the fact chaperones of the 1800s would pick gooseberries to occupy themselves while the attended couple got on with, well, whatever it was they were doing. Their relegation to the ranks of old-fashioned fruits, meanwhile, is likely largely due to the fact that in the 1900s, this quintessentially British summer berry was sadly all but wiped out by a sweeping infection of American gooseberry mildew, whittling the then thousands of varieties down to fewer than 50, and leaving even fewer commercial growers.
Chegworth Valley, a family-run farm in Kent dedicated to putting heritage fruits back in the limelight, is championing their comeback—but you’ll need to be quick. “We’ve been picking them for the last three weeks but we’ve actually just finished, so once these are gone, that’s it,” says Max at the farm. “Keep your eyes peeled at the stall for this wicked red variety—they’re quite unusual in that you can eat them raw, while the common green gooseberry tends to require sugar,” he continues. “These are naturally really sweet, and really good.” But be patient: “You can eat the red ones raw, but make sure they are really ripe first,” warns demo chef Katherine Frelon. “My grandmother used to still dip them in granulated sugar first!”
The most common way to make the most of gooseberries is by making jam—“which I like to make with elderflower and strawberries”—but Katherine has myriad other suggestions. “You can also make gooseberry curd, fool, or chutney—it’s divine with strong, fruity cheddar or smoked cheese and crunchy sourdough bread,” she enthuses. “They can be used in sweet or savoury dishes: I like to cook them into a sugar syrup to have in a goat’s cheese salad with Parma ham and walnuts—delicious.”
Delicate summer wine
Or do as they did way back when and ferment them into a delicate summer wine. “Take 3kg of green gooseberries, top and tail them, put them in a fermenting bucket and pour over two litres of boiling water,” Katherine explains. “Stir and squash them to release the juices, then repeat the process with your hands once the liquid has cooled—be careful not to squash the seeds, they’re bitter.” Leave the liquid for 24 hours, then add a further two litres of water and a kilo and a half of sugar. Stir until dissolved, leave it for 24 hours, then strain the liquid again. Add champagne yeast, leave it for a further three days, then strain again into a demijohn.
“This then needs to be left for six months—no tasting!—before being syphoned into sterile bottles and left for a minimum of three months, if you can, to reap the deliciously sweet yet sharp rewards come spring,” Katherine continues. “Needless to say, once the gooseberry champagne is ready, it doesn’t last long!”