Gooseberries are an excellent fruit to grow because they help fill a gap in the fruiting year.   By May we are no longer quite as excited by rhubarb, the apples are getting floury and we’ve eaten a freezer full of frozen berries.  In a warm year our gooseberries usually come along at the very end of May, at about the same time as the elderflowers.  However this year, because of the cold spring, I think we’ll be harvesting in the second half of June.

As a child, gooseberries were a fruit that my grandmother only told me about.  I never actually saw any. Instead we had ‘chinese gooseberries’ – these days known as kiwifruit – and I can understand now that they were well named.  A tendency to tartness, with fuzzy skins and green stripes.  Having been able to eat both in adulthood, I prefer the true gooseberries.

We planted our three bushes in 2017, two green and one red, and they are all fruiting heavily now.  They seem to like their position at the back of the raspberry patch against a south-facing brick wall.  It isn’t particularly great soil – very compacted – but we give them a mulch of horse manure each year.  At the beginning of spring their tiny flowers must be a boon to the insects.  I have to look carefully to find them and usually only notice them because of the bees.   

So far we have been lucky and they haven’t fallen prey to any predators or diseases.  My husband says that pruning is very important.  It helps keep the bush well ventilated to reduce the likelihood of fungal diseases.  He prunes according to the textbooks, reducing them by a third and clearing the cross-grown branches.  Spikiness is a quality that I usually avoid in plants, but in this case it means we haven’t had to compete with the birds.  The fruit are also remarkably well hidden, hanging along the underside of each branch and under leaves.   A great deal of care is needed when picking the fruit however; never harvest whilst wearing knits!

My favourite gooseberries are the red ones and I have never seen these in the shops.  The ripest green fruit are just as sweet and far superior to shop-bought gooseberries, which I find too tart to enjoy.  Being a relative novice, I haven’t got a store of recipes but I suspect that cooking is only necessary for tart fruit.  We prefer to eat them raw for dessert straight off the bush. 

In other news, I’ve was very slow to plant the summer veg because of the cold spring, but the peas and beans are coming on apace now.  I cut down the sprouting broccoli at the end of May and we have been living off asparagus ever since.  Strawberries aren’t far away. 

Text and Images (C) Claire @theslowfix A slow food devotee, Claire is constantly searching for new ways to enable us all to live sustainably.

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