I write this out of nostalgia. Here in sub-tropical Queensland we have mangoes and bananas and pineapples and all manner of fruit, but we do not have gooseberries. At least, I have never found them here. I do remember them from my childhood in the north of England, and occasionally I have been lucky enough to come across them during one of my visits to the Old Country. Once upon a time in England they were eagerly awaited as one of the first fresh fruits available after winter, but nowadays this advantage is not what it was, thanks to modern transport and import systems which have enabled fruit from far-away to become as close as the local greengrocer.
In celebration of the tart, strictly seasonable fruit, I give you a selection of recipes from the last couple of hundred years:
To make Gooseberry Jam.
Take large gooseberries when ripe, an equal quantity of red and crystal, nick them and squeeze out all the seeds and pulp, to a pint of this put half a pint of the juice of red currants, to a quart of this mixture, take a pound and a half of loaf sugar, beat the sugar and mix all together, let it stand all night, then put it into a stew-pan, set it over a slow fire, take off the scum as it rises, boil it half an hour, put it into your pots, when cold cover it with papers dipped in brandy
The New Experienced English Housekeeper (London, 1795) Sarah Martin.
Baked Gooseberry Pudding.
Stew gooseberries in a jar over a hot hearth, or in a saucepan of water, till they will pulp. Take a pint of the juice pressed through a coarse sieve, and beat it with three yolks and whites of eggs beaten and strained, one ounce and a half of butter; sweeten it well, and put a crust round the dish. A few crums of roll should be mixed with the above to give a little consistence, or four ounces of Naples biscuit.
Raspberries or currants may be used instead of gooseberries, and are equally good.
A New System of Domestic Cookery (London, 1824) by Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell
Boil a pint of green gooseberries in sufficient water to cover them until they are tender. Then pass them through a colander or strainer; add ten grains of ginger and a few lumps of sugar, with a small piece of butter. Mix all together, and boil up.
The English Cookery Book: Uniting a Good Style with Economy
(London, 1859) by J.H.Walsh.
Gooseberry Wine of the Best Quality, resembling Champagne.
To each pint of full ripe gooseberries, mashed, add one pint of water, milk warm, in which has been dissolved one pound of single-refined sugar; stir the whole weel, and cover up the tub with a blanket, to preserve the heat generated by the fermentation of the ingredients: let them remain in this vessel 3 days, stirring them once or twice or thrice a day; strain off the liquor through a sieve, afterwards through a coarse linen cloth; put it into the cask; it will ferment without yeast. Let the cast be kept full with some of the liquor reserved for the purpose. It will ferment for 10 days, sometimes for 3 weeks; when ceased, and only a hissing noise remains, draw off 2 or 3 bottles, according to the strength you wish it to have, from every 20 pint cask, and fill up the cask with brandy or whiskey, but brandy is preferable. To make it very good, and that it may keep well, add as much Sherry, together with ¼ oz. of isinglass dissolved in water to make it quite liquid: stir the whole well. Bung the cask up, and surround the bung with clay; the closer it is bunged, the better; a fortnight after, if it be clear at top, taste it; if not sweet enough, add more sugar: 22 lbs. is the just quantity in all for 20 pints of wine; leave the wine 6 months in the cask; but after being quite fine, the sooner it is bottled the more it will sparkle and resemble Champagne. The process s should be carried on in a place where the heat is between 48o and 54o Fahr. Currrant wine may be made in the same manner.
Mackenzie’s Ten Thousand Receipts (Philadelphia, 1865) by Colin MacKenzie.