In season: wild gooseberries
So, were the wild gooseberries worth fighting prickles, poison ivy, ticks and locust thorns for? Absolutely.
The season, like everything this year, came on early. Suddenly gooseberries were everywhere. We picked as many as we could stand picking, grateful that Ribes missouriense is a friendlier berry than the Sierra gooseberries Hank Shaw describes as “nasty, spiky, prickly things.” And that’s the actual berry, not just the branch.
Still, even these smooth gooseberries need to be trimmed of stems and beards, a painstaking process, but well-worth it in the end. A few were fully ripe, soft and brownish-purple with a dull, winey sweetness. But most are tart and green, perfect for desserts, although Wild Edibles of Missouri also recommends using them in jelly and picking leaves for salads or tea.
I immediately made a pie, because that’s what my mother-in-law has always done with them. It’s easy enough: just cook 4 cups of unripe gooseberries with 1 cup of granulated sugar and 2 tablespooons of corn starch until it’s a gooey, sweet mess, then fill a double-crust pie and bake.
With that done, I contemplated other recipes. Wild Seasons offers several versions of jam, jellies and pies. And there’s a gooseberry fool recipe in Cooking Wild in Missouri that’s caught my eye, although I might have to substitute the sensible vanilla yogurt with the more traditionally English whipped cream.
That’s if there are any left after this weekend. We just returned from picking blueberries at The Berry Patch, and so I’m all set to make Cooking Wild’s gooseberry-blueberry crunch. Then it’s back into the thickets for more.
Gooseberry-Blueberry Crunch: Preheat oven to 375F. In a large bowl, combine 4 cups gooseberries, 2 cups blueberries, 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup flour, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon lemon juice and 1/2 cup water. Mix well. Pour into a greased 8-1/2- by 8-1/2-inch baking dish. In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup rolled oats, 1/4 cup melted butter and 1/2 cup chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts or a combination). Sprinkle topping over fruit. Bake for about 1 hour, or until berries bubble, top is nicely browned and mixture is set.