The gooseberry ( /ˈɡuːsbɛri/ or /ˈɡuːzbɛri/ (American) or /ˈɡʊzbəri/ (British);Ribes uva-crispa, syn. R. grossularia) is a species of Ribes, native to Europe, northwestern Africa, west, south and southeast Asia. It is one of several similar species in the subgenus Grossularia; for the other related species (e.g., North American Gooseberry Ribes hirtellum), see the genus page Ribes.
Although usually placed as a subgenus within Ribes, a few taxonomists treat Grossularia as a separate genus, although hybrids between gooseberry and blackcurrant (e.g., the jostaberry) are possible. The subgenus Grossularia differs somewhat from currants, chiefly in their spiny stems, and in that their flowers grow one to three together on short stems, not in racemes.
The gooseberry is a straggling bush growing to 1–3 metres (3–10 feet) tall, the branches being thickly set with sharp spines, standing out singly or in diverging tufts of two or three from the bases of the short spurs or lateral leaf shoots. The bell-shaped flowers are produced, singly or in pairs, from the groups of rounded, deeply-crenated 3 or 5 lobed leaves. The fruit of wild gooseberries is smaller than in the cultivated varieties, but is often of good flavour; it is generally hairy, but in one variety smooth, constituting the R. uva-crispa of writers; berries’ colour is usually green, but there are red variants and occasionally deep purple berries occur.
The gooseberry is indigenous to many parts of Europe and western, south and southeast Asia, growing naturally in alpine thickets and rocky woods in the lower country, from France eastward, well into the Himalayas and peninsular India.
In Britain, gooseberry bushes are often found in copses and hedgerows and about old ruins, but the gooseberry has been cultivated for so long that it is difficult to distinguish wild bushes from feral ones, or where the gooseberry fits into the native flora of the island. Common as it is now on some of the lower slopes of the Alps of Piedmont and Savoy, it is uncertain whether the Romans were acquainted with the gooseberry, though it may possibly be alluded to in a vague passage of Pliny the Elder‘s Natural History; the hot summers of Italy, in ancient times as at present, would be unfavourable to its cultivation. Although gooseberries are now abundant in Germany and France, it does not appear to have been much grown there in the Middle Ages, though the wild fruit was held in some esteem medicinally for the cooling properties of its acid juice in fevers; while the old English name, Fea-berry, still surviving in some provincial dialects, indicates that it was similarly valued in Britain, where it was planted in gardens at a comparatively early period.
Photo by Solmaz Hafezi
William Turner describes the gooseberry in his Herball, written about the middle of the 16th century, and a few years later it is mentioned in one of Thomas Tusser‘s quaint rhymes as an ordinary object of garden culture. Improved varieties were probably first raised by the skilful gardeners of Holland, whose name for the fruit, Kruisbezie, may have been easily corrupted into the present English vernacular word. Towards the end of the 18th century the gooseberry became a favourite object of cottage-horticulture, especially in Lancashire, where the working cotton-spinners have raised numerous varieties from seed, their efforts having been chiefly directed to increasing the size of the fruit.It is the good source of Vitamin C.
Of the many hundred varieties enumerated in recent horticultural works, few perhaps equal in flavour some of the older denizens of the fruit-garden, such as the Old Rough Red and Hairy Amber. The climate of the British Isles seems peculiarly adapted to bring the gooseberry to perfection, and it may be grown successfully even in the most northern parts of Scotland where it is commonly known as a “grozet”; indeed, the flavour of the fruit is said to improve with increasing latitude. In Norway (where it’s named “stikkelsbær” — or “prickly berry”), the bush flourishes in gardens on the west coast nearly up to the Arctic circle, and it is found wild as far north as 63°. The dry summers of the French and German plains are less suited to it, though it is grown in some hilly districts with tolerable success. The gooseberry in the south of England will grow well in cool situations, and may be sometimes seen in gardens near London flourishing under the partial shade of apple trees; but in the north it needs full exposure to the sun to bring the fruit to perfection. It will succeed in almost any soil, but prefers a rich loam or black alluvium, and, though naturally a plant of rather dry places, will do well in moist land, if drained.
It is also widely found in villages throughout the former Czechoslovakia.
The easiest method of propagating gooseberries is by cuttings rather than raising from seed; cuttings planted in the autumn will take root quickly and can begin to bear fruit within a few years.
Vigorous pruning may be necessary; fruit is produced on lateral spurs and the previous year’s shoots, so the 19th-century custom was to trim side branches in the winter, and perhaps trim leading shoots at that time or remove their tips in the summer.
Large berries can be produced by heavy composting, especially if the majority of the fruit is picked off while small to allow room for a few berries to continue to grow. Grafting of gooseberry vines onto ornamental golden currants (Ribes aurum) or other Ribes species can be helpful for this purpose. Some 19th- and early 20th-century cultivators produced single gooseberries near to two ounces in weight, but, as with many varieties of fruit, larger sizes of gooseberry proved to have weaker flavor.
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