The gooseberry is not a beautiful fruit. The berries are a translucent and bulging, with veins running from the top to the bottom. Raw gooseberries are a green grape-like colour, but without any of the sweetness associated with grapes. They're wincingly tart and acidic. Uncooked, gooseberries are a belly-acher of a fruit. But when cooked and sweetened a little, the taste is wonderfully tangy - with a rhubarb-like sharpness, and dry, grapey flavours.
Gooseberry season is quite short, and is dependent on sunny weather - the berries are often at their best just before strawberries reach their peak. They aren't fun to pick. The plants have spiked barbs - so it's advisable to wear gardening gloves, or at the very least take good care to prevent too many injuries.
Gooseberries have a rich history in Britain. They were first cultivated in the sixteenth century, and were often used medicinally - plague sufferers were in fact advised to eat gooseberries. In culinary terms, gooseberries were a very popular ingredient throughout the Middle Ages too, particularly when turned into gooseberry wine or made into a type of verjuice to sharpen meat stews or marinades.
If it's a good season, then gooseberries are widely-available round June and July. Occasionally frozen gooseberries can be found in a farm shop, and tinned gooseberries in syrup are stocked in a few supermarkets.
Gooseberries are at their best when slightly sweetened and cooked. They might be cooked in the oven, inside a crumble. Or they might be cooked on a hob, into a compote. Either way, the gooseberries will remain textured - with detectable skin and pips.
To create a smoother-textured puree, blend the cooked gooseberries and pass them through a sieve, or a mouli - as Nathan Outlaw demonstrates in his gooseberry and custard tart. A thin gooseberry purée also works well in cocktails, and can be used to flavour jellies or sorbets.
Gooseberries withstand slow-cooking, and are popular base ingredients for jams or chutneys.
Gooseberries are such a big flavour in their own right, they don't necessarily need cooking alongside lots of other ingredients - they'll be vying for attention. Use other ingredients to bring sweetness to a dish, like a buttery pastry case, a sweet crumble topping, or whipped cream in a gooseberry fool or pavlova.
Gooseberries work brilliantly in savoury dishes too. Their tart flavour cuts through rich and fatty food. For a Yorkshire classic, pair gooseberries with mackerel. Here, James Mackenzie serves gammon with a gooseberry ketchup. A dollop of gooseberry compote or gooseberry chutney is also a great thing to add to a cheeseboard.
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