Growing up, we were lucky enough to have an old gnarled gooseberry bush. Somewhere in amongst the trees which formed the far border of the back garden, it sat squat and unassuming.
It had deadly sharp thorns and a thick dark trunk. In my memory, the trunk and twigs were covered in yellow lichen, the same as what covered the seawall in the front of the house.
When the gooseberry bush was fruiting, its pale green berries were tantalisingly bitter, so much that your whole face would scrunch up when you popped one in your mouth.
I owe it to this particular childhood experience for a lifelong love affair with all things sour and bitter.
Gooseberry is perfectly suited to the Irish climate and has one of the earliest and longest natural season. It is strange then that it is still largely underused.
Compared to other native berries and food like rhubarb, gooseberries are not grown or eaten nearly as prolifically. It is true that compared to blackberries, blackcurrants, raspberries and strawberries, gooseberries need a good bit more sweetening to make them palatable beyond just eating one or two for a hit of sour.
If you do decide to grow gooseberries in your own gardens, they are actually very prolific, so make sure you are going to make good use of them. They of course can be used in a myriad of interesting ways in both savoury and sweet gastronomic endeavours.
They also freeze incredibly well, so if you do find it hard to manage the glut of berries, you can simple top and tail them and pop them in the freezer for later use.
It had actually been such a long time since I had eaten gooseberries before I was kindly gifted a big bowl of them, picked by a friend of mine from a few bushes they have in their garden. In the bowl, all jumbled up together were at least three different varieties. Large, firm green ones, slightly smaller pink ones and then purple ones the size of currants. I didn’t even know they came in different colours.
Experimenting with them in the kitchen was a gorgeous trip down memory lane, which is what great ingredients should do. Here are a couple of our favourite gooseberry recipes.
This is one of the most perfect ways of eating gooseberries. When stewed down with sugar, they loose none of their brilliantly unique flavour, just a little mellowed out in terms of sourness.
400g gooseberries (you can use frozen if you wish) 80g caster sugar 350ml of double cream For the crumble:
40g rolled oats 40g wholemeal flour 50g cold butter, cubed 30g caster sugar 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger 30g almonds, chopped roughly Pinch of sea salt
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Place the gooseberries and sugar in a saucepan over a medium high heat and cook until the berries have popped and released their juices. Cook for around 10 minutes on a medium heat until you have a compote almost jammy mixture. Set aside to cool completely.
For the crumble, mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, rubbing the dry ingredients into the cold butter cubes to form breadcrumbs.
Place in a lined baking sheet, evenly spread out and bake for around 10 - 12 minutes until golden brown. Set aside to cool.
Whisk the double cream until it is soft and thick, do not over whisk it. Assemble a large spoonful of each component into bowls and serve.
Mushroom ketchup is the obvious alternative, although probably the one which is the greatest departure from the original. We have previously made mango ketchup, hot pepper ketchup, blackberry ketchup and even bacon ketchup, but there is something about this pickled gooseberry ketchup that makes for the best alternative yet. It turned out a slightly strange colour as we used a mixture of different coloured gooseberries, but the taste was sensational.
150g gooseberries, washed, topped & tailed 150ml white wine vinegar 2 tablespoons of caster sugar 1 teaspoon of sea salt 4 juniper berries 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds 3 black peppercorns 1 bay leaf 1/2 cucumber cut into ribbons 1 tablespoon of olive oil 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds 1 onion finely sliced 1 green apple, peeled, cored and cubed 1 garlic clove, crushed 1 green chilli, seeds removed, thinly sliced 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
The first thing to do is pickle your gooseberries. Put the vinegar, sugar, sea salt, juniper berries, mustard seeds, peppercorns and bay leaf in a small saucepan along with 150ml of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 3 minutes. Take off the heat and leave to infuse for around 10 minutes. Place the cucumber ribbons and the gooseberries in a sterilised jar and pour the pickling liquid over. Seal and leave to pickle for at least two hours but preferably overnight.
When the gooseberries have pickled, drain them, reserving the liquid and remove the spices, cucumber and bay leaf until all that you have left is the gooseberries and the liquid.
In a small saucepan, heat a little olive oil over a medium high heat and add the apple, onion, garlic, chilli and fennel seeds. Stir until everything is beginning to soften and become very aromatic. Add the pickled gooseberries to the pan along with the brown sugar and a tablespoon of the pickling juice. Stir over a medium high heat until the gooseberries have broken down completely. At this point you can transfer to a food processor or use a stick blender to blitz until very smooth. Decant into a sterilised glass bottle and leave to cool.
300g gooseberries, washed, topped & tailed 80g caster sugar 100ml water 3 egg whites
Bring the sugar and water to the boil in a small saucepan and add the gooseberries. Simmer for 2- 3 minutes until tender but still holding shape. Leave to cool completely before pureeing in a food processor or use a stick blender.
Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until you have stiff peaks. Carefully fold in the gooseberry puree, spoon by spoon until everything is incorporated but still fluffy. Scoop into a freezable lunchbox and freeze for at least 2 hours.