Thursday, August 13, 2015

Fun Plant of the Day: Gooseberries!

These goosberries are ready to eat!
gooseberries grow in brambles and are wild in some places
They grow thorny canes with distinctive leaves

They have tiny pinkish green flowers
 Gooseberries are members of the currant family and are widespread in Europe and parts of North America. There are two main strains of wild ones: Ribes hirtellum (which is native to America) and Ribes grossularia (from the Causcaus Mountains and Northern Africa). Most of what we buy today are hybrids of the two.  Where I grew up in Nebraska, many homesteads, or places where the pioneers settled, have brambles of gooseberries growing wild long after the inhabitants of the homestead have gone. 

The fruits are soft, slightly sweet when ripe and so juicy!  They are excellent in desserts of any kind, but are mostly used in pies, tarts and such. Most gooseberries are harvested while they are still green and then sugar or honey is added to the dessert to help cut their sharp tartness.  They can be more tart than cranberries when green but are still plump and juicy. When you can manage to find ones that have fully ripened and are purple in the late summer / early fall, they are even good right off the stem. 

Gooseberry anything is so hard to find in Las Vegas that I always look forward to looking for them when I visit my parent's ranch in Nebraska.  Once in a great while, DuPar's at the Golden Gate Casino has gooseberry pie, but that's the only place I've seen it.  If you've seen gooseberry desserts elsewhere in Las Vegas, let me know.  Another option is to buy canned or frozen gooseberries if you can find them and make your own dessert.  Here's one:

  • 4 cups gooseberries (fresh, frozen or canned can be used)*
  • 3/4 cup sugar (better yet, replace with 3/4 cup honey)*#
  • 1/4 all purpose flour (unbleached if you can get it)*
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter*
  • Pastry for double-crust pie (or already refrigerated pie crust) (Mom's 'secret' crust recipe adds cinnamon, nutmeg and a dash of sugar to the dough for a crust with actual flavor)

    *May need a bit more than this at altitudes above 3,500 ft as many of us in the Southwest are.

    #May need less of this if you can get actually ripe, purple berries

  • Stem and wash gooseberries. Put in large mixing bowl. Combine sugar/honey, flour and salt in a smaller mixing bowl.
  • Add sugar/honey mixture to berries, then toss gently to coat the fruit. (if you use canned berries you can skip this step as they are already in syrup)
  • Fill a pastry-lined nine-inch pie plate with the gooseberry mixture; dot with butter. Adjust top crust. Seal and flute the edge with a fork. Make four slits in top of crust. Baste the crust with a butter and salt wash for a really golden brown crust. Cover crust with foil if desired.
  • Bake at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes (possibly longer if you live at elevations above 3,500 feet)
  • Remove foil and bake another 25 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Cool on a wire rack. (Cover with a tea cloth since we are in a low humidity environment here in the Southwest)

    If you have any recipes for gooseberries, please share them below.

They grow great in Nebraska, and further Northeast because they have cold winters with mild summers.  They can be grown with great care in the Southwest, but do best in areas of high elevation if you don't want to have to tend to them too much.  Here in Las Vegas, I would have to grow them as houseplants so that I could provide the shade, humidity and water they need.  They may survive outside in dappled full shade if they are near a water feature such as a waterfall or fountain, but they would have to be in containers to provide the well-drained slightly acidic soils that they are used to.  It could be a bit like trying to raise ferns here.  I'm sorely tempted to try it though as I so love the fruit that gooseberry brambles produce.

I've heard from folks at the Nevada Cooperative Extension Office that blackberries and boysenberries can be grown in Southern Nevada with enough irrigation and shade, but they didn't have any information about gooseberries.  If I decide to try it, I'll keep you posted on what happens.


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