Gooseberries are tiny, rare berries that are related to currants. There are two different species of gooseberry, the American gooseberry (Ribes hirtellum) and the European gooseberry (R. grossularia). The American gooseberry is native to the northern areas of the United States and southern Canada. The European gooseberry is native to the Northern Africa region and is grown throughout Europe, especially in Britain. European gooseberries are slightly larger, about one inch in diameter, than the American berries. The American species is also thought to have an inferior flavor, which is why the European species is more commonly found in supermarkets in the States.
Cape gooseberries are actually not related to American or European gooseberries but instead belong in the nightshade family. They are native to Peru and Chile and are commonly grown in Britain, Australia, and China. The berries resemble yellow gooseberries and are covered with a thin, paper husk like a tomatillo. They taste similar to gooseberries.
The gooseberry plant is a small deciduous shrub, no more than three feet tall and six feet around. The plants have small leaves and are protected by thorns. They grow well in areas with wet, warm summers and cold winters. The shrubs grow tiny pink and green flowers in the spring that develop into berries over the course of the summer. A mature plant can produce 8 to 10 pounds of berries per season.
Gooseberries are round and translucent with a stem on top and the remains of the withered flower attached to the bottom. Some varieties of berries are smooth or fuzzy while others decorate the berries with tiny spines. The berries come in a variety of colors, most commonly green but also white, gold, and several shades of red. Yellow berries are thought to have the sweetest flavor while red berries are the most acidic. Underripe gooseberries are sour somewhat like a grape while ripe berries are much sweeter and have a mildly musky flavor. While most varieties of berries will be sweet when ripe, some kinds stay sour.
Gooseberries can be found in some supermarkets or farmer markets when they are in season from May to August. When selecting the berries, look for ones that are firm and shiny. If you are picking your own berries, look for ones that easily fall from the bush when it is shaken. Gooseberries will not ripen further once they are picked, so try to taste them before picking or buying. In America, ripe berries are red or yellow while green berries tend to be underripe. Ripe, green berries can be commonly found in other areas of the world. Gooseberries keep well for about a week in the fridge. Canned gooseberries can also be purchased in some specialty stores.
Ripe gooseberries can be eaten raw but are more often cooked with a bit of sugar. Underripe berries can also be cooked to improve their flavor. Before cooking or eating, pinch the tops and bottoms off the berries with your fingernails. Both cooked and raw gooseberries freeze well. The berries have a high level of pectin so they make excellent jams and jellies. They are also used in pies and puddings or combined with whipped cream to make a dessert called a fool. The berries can be pureed into a sauce for savory foods like meats. Gooseberries can also be fermented to make gooseberry wine and young gooseberry leaves can be used to make a salad.
The Joy of Cooking, revised edition, 1997