It’s the latest in my occasional series, Grow & Eat. Today it’s the turn of that rather maligned fruit, the gooseberry.
You might think that I’m rather late to be talking about gooseberries. On the contrary, from the late autumn until the spring is the time to be thinking about planting bare-rooted gooseberry bushes on your plot, so if you’re thinking about it, start looking at varieties you might like to grow now.
Gooseberries have a reputation for producing sour, green fruit. Generally speaking, these need to be cooked (and sweetened!) but are good for pie and jam-making. There are other varieties which produce bigger, sweeter fruit, such as ‘Hinnonmaki Red’ and ‘Marlet’, which grow red-purple berries–although I still find them quite tart, as I’ve got rather a sweet tooth. I’ve inherited a gooseberry bush of as-yet-undetermined variety on my new plot, which has berries that turn a beautiful purple colour as they ripen, so I think I’ve got lucky. I’ve had an abundance of fruit this year which has been rather lovely.
It will need pruning in the early summer and also over winter. I have a plant that’s kept in a bush shape but they can also be cordoned and trained along a wall, which would be a great space saving way of growing them in a smaller plot. I will be pruning mine to remove the dead wood and the shoots that are growing low to the ground this winter. Early next summer, around June, I will be cutting back some of the new growth to keep the shape – fruit tends to grow on older wood, so it’s not a problem.
Gooseberries are fully hardy and easy to grow, so they’re a great soft fruit to start with. I’ve noticed that they seem to be less attractive to birds than other fruit – perhaps it’s the spikes!
If you’re planning to buy gooseberry plant for your plot, here are a few tips:
Plant bushes about 1.5 metres apart, and cordons about 30cm apart if you’re getting more than one. I’ve found one to be enough, to be honest.
Mulch the ground around the bottom, to help with dry spells.
If your soil isn’t great, give them a good treatment with fertiliser in the winter (my next job, after pruning).
If you do notice birds taking a liking to them, you’ll need to net the plants, or grow in a fruit cage. Harvest early berries for jam making in around June. When they’re fully ripe (slightly soft when squeezed) a bit later in the summer, they can be eaten raw although I’ll admit mine are still a bit eye-watering to do so without sugar!
Gooseberries work well with pork, apparently. Rather like apple sauce. Here’s a recipe from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall.
Gooseberry compote – which is pretty much just heating them to a pulp, with added sugar, is the basis for lots of gooseberry recipes. Eaten simply with whipped cream as a fool, on scones, into a pie or crumble, this is the classic way of using them.
Over the summer, I made Alys Fowler’s Gooseberry and Elderflower jam from her Edible Garden book and it was a richly jewel coloured joy, a you can see above. Definitely one for making again next year.
I love to have guest bloggers for Grow & Eat. If you’re interested in sharing stories of what you’ve grown and eaten this year, get in touch!