Some like them tart

green gooseberries

Little green gooseberry balloons looked so pretty in mid-July at the East York farmers market, I couldn’t resist buying a quart.

Fortunately, I knew better than to pop them in my mouth, since the translucent berries can be as mouth-puckering as rhubarb when green and hard.

“They ripen if you let them sit on the counter,” advises Dianne Rottier, co-owner of Allberry Farms in Jordan Station, one of Ontario’s larger commercial growers.

“When they turn soft they’re amazing,” says Rottier, who grows green and red varieties, “though the skin is always a bit tart.”

She says Russian customers can’t get enough for their creamy gooseberry soup.

Paul Brooks, co-owner of Brooks Farms in Mount Albert, says more Toronto chefs are making gooseberry chutney, traditionally used to cut the fat in rich meats such as goose, or oily fish such as salmon.

Gooseberries are still beloved in England; in North America, settlers transformed them into wine, vinegar, preserves and pies. With our keen interest in local food, especially among chefs, the tart berries are tempting a new generation.

If you’d like to try them, or if gooseberry jam is a summer tradition in your family, local growers have us covered.

Though Allberry finished harvesting early due to rain, Brooks reports a bumper crop of ripe pink gooseberries, and Andrews Scenic Acres in the Halton Hills expects to start picking by late July.

If you find gooseberries expensive, consider how difficult they are to harvest.

“The bushes are very prickly and the thorns are incredible,” says Brooks, who grows all sorts of pick-your-own fruit and vegetables.

“We go out with a welding glove on one hand to move the bush aside,” he says, “then pick around that spot to get every berry.”

Name Game

The name gooseberry may be connected to the French word groseille, also used for currants, or the fact that the berries were used as a sauce for roast goose. In French, they’re groseilles à maquereaux, as in mackerel, another classic pairing.

Nutri boost

Gooseberries are a good source of Vitamin A and potassium, and a very good source of fibre and Vitamin C. They’re also rich in antioxidants and help regulate blood sugar levels.

Buy & Store

  • Ontario gooseberries are in season in July and August. Look for them in supermarkets and farmers markets or pick your own on the farm.
  • Gooseberries keep for several weeks in the refrigerator and freeze well for months.

Prep

  • Let hard, green berries ripen on the counter for a few days or a week or so in the fridge until they start to change colour.
  • Before using, remove the tail and blossom end with a knife, scissors or your fingers.

Serve

  • Cook gooseberries in sweet dishes from pies and tarts to muffins and crisps.
  • Serve them tart in a relish or chutney with grilled salmon, sardines, mackerel, poultry or roast pork.
  • Gooseberry Ice: For a refreshing summer ice, fabulous cookbook author Jennifer McLagan simmers just over 1 pound of gooseberries in 1 cup water until very soft. Strain through a fine sieve then stir in 1/2 cup granulated sugar, stirring until dissolved. Chill, then churn in an ice cream maker.
  • Gooseberry Fool: Cook gooseberries with sugar to taste to make a thick sauce, then pass through a sieve or food mill. Stir cooled purée into whipped cream or Greek yogurt.
  • Poach: Bring 1 cup (250 mL) water and 1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar to a boil, stirring until dissolved, then add 1 pint of ripe pink gooseberries. Cook until barely tender, about 4 minutes. Cool, then chill. Serve with smoked meats or serve over ice cream with a little of the syrup.

Cookie Dough Gooseberry Cobbler

 This scrumptious cobbler, adapted from Foodland Ontario, pairs tart gooseberries with a sweet, crisp cookie-like topping. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream. Tip: Recipe can be cut in half using a smaller pan and 2 tbsp  beaten egg.

2 cups granulated sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

5 cups gooseberries, halved (about 2 quarts)

1 cup butter, softened

1 large egg

1/2 tsp vanilla

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts

In 13-inch by 9-inch cake pan, combine 1 cup sugar and cornstarch. Stir in gooseberries and set aside.

In large mixing bowl, beat together butter and remaining 1 cup sugar with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla.

In small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually blend into butter mixture on low. Stir in nuts. Drop small spoonfuls of dough over gooseberry mixture.

Bake in preheated 375F oven 35 to 40 minutes or until top is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Cool slightly. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Makes 8 servings.

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