Tangy treats: Gooseberries add zest to sweet and savoury dishes

Mention summer fruits, and cherries and strawberries spring to mind. But a tangier seasonal treat is the gooseberry, says Clare Hargreaves.

"In this country especially, there is no fruit so universally in favour," wrote Mrs Beeton in her Book of Household Management in 1861. "In Scotland, there is scarcely a cottage-garden without its … bush." The fruit the doyenne of British cooking was extolling was not the juicy raspberry or today's superfood superstar the blueberry, but the hairy gooseberry, traditionally seen as the first fruit of summer.

So popular was the meadow-green berry in Georgian and Victorian times that gooseberry clubs sprang up across northern England – at one time there were 120 – where growers (mostly men) competed to grow the biggest fruits. As men well know, size is everything, so bushes were pruned almost out of existence to allow just a handful of fruits to be coaxed to supersize proportions.

The names of the varieties were as delicious as the fruits. Some described their origins (Lancashire Lad), cultivator (Whinham's Industry), colouring (Woodpecker) or their grower's pretensions (Roaring Lion, Hero of the Nile). Others hinted tantalisingly at some unexplained incident, as in Dan's Mistake (who was Dan and what was the error that committed him and his red gooseberry to the culinary history books for ever? one wonders.)

Today, though, the bristled fruit has become a relative rarity, playing gooseberry while we cavort with sweeter, more colourful fruits such as the strawberry. You might struggle to find gooseberries in the supermarket, although some have a limited supply. As a result, many of us will never enjoy a creamy, citrusy gooseberry fool that used to be as integral a part of summer as Wimbledon or cricket on the village green.

In fact, when London chef Jason Atherton questioned people in the street for the BBC's Great British Food Revival series due to be screened in October, many had never even heard of gooseberries. "Kids didn't know what they were and had no interest in them. It's a shame that many will never enjoy their lovely complex taste," he told me. "The gooseberry is an integral part of our fruit heritage. It's time we became proud of it."

Like many other chefs, Atherton loves the acidic gooseberry's pairing with oily fish, particularly mackerel. (So harmonious is this marriage that the French word for gooseberry is groseille à maquereau, the mackerel berry). At his London restaurant, Pollen Street Social, Atherton marinates mackerel in a blend of gooseberries and cucumber to great effect.

At the Coq d'Argent, French-born chef Mickael Weiss makes a gooseberry salsa to accompany grilled Cornish mackerel, while Tim Allen (at Launceston Place) makes a ballotine of mackerel and preserved gooseberries served with a horseradish sauce. As the English name suggests, gooseberries also partner well with fatty meats such as goose, duck and lamb. Atherton makes a gooseberry and elderflower jam which he serves with duck, for instance, and Weiss marries a sharp gooseberry relish with salt marsh lamb.

Up on the Yorkshire Moors, meanwhile, the residents of Egton Bridge are nursing their precious gooseberry bushes ahead of their annual gooseberry show on 7 August. The show, held in the village schoolroom, is the oldest in the country, first held in 1800. From breakfast time onwards growers from the village and around arrive bearing fruits carefully cradled in egg boxes, to be solemnly weighed by the judges following procedures that have barely changed in 212 years.

Top contender is Egton Bridge resident Bryan Nellist, who in 2009 forged his way into the Guinness World Records with a golfball-sized gooseberry weighing over 2oz. He says the secret is plenty of rotting salmon and well-matured pig manure. It's a nail-biting process, though: two years ago he had a weighty wonder that was set to outgrow his record-breaker, but it split the day before the show so had to be turned into a pie. Bryan related the story to me with almost as much emotion as a father mourning a cherished child.

Julia Brierley, one of Egton Bridge's few women exhibitors, believes the gooseberry is unjustly maligned because many eat them when unripe, and tart. "It's such a shame that people think of gooseberries as hard, sour things," she told me. "If allowed to ripen until they're pink, they're as sweet as grapes or kiwis. In Victorian times they resided in the fruit bowl. People bit the end off then squirted the contents into their mouths."

Jim Arbury who looks after the Royal Horticultural Society's gooseberry collection at Wisley – one of the largest collections in the country, with around 170 varieties – agrees. His favourite is a variety called Yellow Champagne that he says is syrupy and delicious. "Gooseberries have a complexity of flavour that other fruits lack. Ripe ones are sweet, not tart," he says. "Ideally suited to the British climate, they're also easy to grow, especially if you choose a mildew resistant variety. Plant a bush and you will have fruit year after year."

Gardeners, chefs and foodies may be versed in the virtues of the characterful gooseberry, but is it time the rest of us re-embraced the hairy habit too? Otherwise we're missing out on one of the quintessential fruits of a British summer.

Don't play the fool

You might be more familiar with green gooseberries, but they can also be red, white and yellow. These varieties are all good to grow at home, and many are available in supermarkets.


Invicta: popular green gooseberry that's good for culinary use. When fully ripe, can be eaten raw. In most supermarkets.

Careless: Old variety which has remained popular because of its large fruit and good flavour. Stocked by several supermarkets.


Leveller: large golden-green flavoursome fruits that are good eaten raw. Grown since 1851. In some supermarkets.

Langley Gage: syrupy sweet small globes.


Whinham's Industry: sweet, dark crimson gooseberry, dating back to about 1835. A great dual-purpose red.

Pax: Ruby red, round berries with plenty of flavour. The bushes are thornless.


Grilled mackerel and gooseberry salsa with cucumber and celery salad

By Mickael Weiss


Extra-virgin olive oil
4 small shallots, peeled and finely chopped
300g gooseberries, cleaned and cut into quarters
Lime juice and zest from one lime
Another lime cut into segments
2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
2 heaped tablespoons of shredded, flat-leaf parsley
2 heaped tablespoons of chopped chives
Sea salt and pepper

Gooseberry is known as "Groseille a Maquereau" in French, so turning my attention to the word's origin, I discover it was oven baked next to mackerel. Gooseberries were served with the oily fish as a sweet and sour sauce by the Normans and Danes. It was used widely in England and France from the Middle Ages. The gooseberry plants are from the Ribes family, an Arab term meaning sour. They probably originate from northern Africa and were brought to Europe after Spanish colonisation.

In a saucepan, place sugar and vinegar and bring to a simmer. Add the quartered gooseberries, season with salt and pepper and remove from heat (this will soften them without cooking). Once cool, add the rest of the ingredients and refrigerate for a minimum of 3 hours.

Using a peeler, make some cucumber and celery strip and place in ice water for a few minutes. Drain and add to some mixed baby leaves or pea shoot.

Grill the mackerel fillets. Season your salad with a simple lemon juice and olive oil. Place fillet on top of salad then top with gooseberry salsa and lime segments. Can also be served with salsa verde.

Gooseberry fool with elderflower

By Mark Diacono

A classic marriage of spring-into-summer flavours, as simple to make as it is delicious. You might top it off with a crumble mix. Alternatively, serve it with almond tuiles, gingersnaps or shortbread.

Ingredients: serves 4

500g gooseberries
4 tablespoons caster sugar
2 finely pared strips of lemon zest
12 medium heads of elderflower, plus a few to decorate
300ml double cream

Put the gooseberries into a pan with the sugar, lemon zest and a few splashes of water and throw the elderflower heads on top. Heat gently until the gooseberries begin to break up, then simmer for 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Push the pulpy mush through a sieve and leave to cool completely. Whisk the cream until soft peaks form, then fold into the purée. Refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving. Spoon the chilled fruit fool into serving glasses and top with a sprig of elderflower to decorate.

Taken from 'River Cottage Fruit' by Mark Diacono (Bloomsbury, £14.99)

A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Recruitment Consultant (Trainee), Finchley Central, London

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn