Don’t worry, “gooseberry” isn’t a creative term for bird droplets.
Just the opposite, actually: These little treats are among some of the tastiest found in nature – making everything from jams and pies to wine more wonderful for us humans for hundreds of years!
Though, of course, the berries themselves have been around much longer than centuries. In fact, it’s been more like millennia.
Like many of their berry brethren, gooseberries prefer a colder climate for blossoming, making them one of the rare fruits native to areas like Northern Europe and North America – though they can also grow wild in Asia, particularly in higher-altitude areas like the Himalayas and their foothills.
Indeed, in places like England and Scotland, the berries have been grown for so long it’s become difficult for naturalists to decipher which bushes were wild and which were put there on purpose.
While far lesser known, nowadays, than their blue-, rasp-, black-, and cranberry cousins, gooseberries have actually enjoyed historical popularity, especially among the early English settlers in the American colonies.
Gooseberry pie was a particular favorite of these folks, although the berry has gone on to make other desserts like cobblers, spreads like jams and even branched out to the beverage world, with recipes for gooseberry teas and wines.
Their tastiness and versatility is likely one of the reasons we still have the berries today – and that dozens of different gooseberry cultivars have been developed over the years.
Before we get to brass tacks, let’s take a step back to look at the bigger picture.
There are actually two main branches in the gooseberry family: the American gooseberry, officially called Ribes hirtellum, and the European version of the plant, known as R. grossularia, with the continent of choice impacting everything from a gooseberry’s general color and size to its taste.
European gooseberries – which, other than Northern Europe, are found in the Caucasus Mountains and stretch as far south as Northern Africa – are by far the larger of the two. Some can even grow to the size of small plums! They’re also known to be more flavorful than most American varieties, and can grow in most shades of the rainbow, including white, yellow, red and purple.
On the other side of the pond, American gooseberries prefer the northeastern area of the continent. And, when grown wild, are generally considered inferior to their European cousins in most measurable ways. American gooseberries are smaller, less hardy and typically less flavorful.
That’s probably why many of the cultivars that have since been developed by farmers and gardeners include a healthy mix of European gooseberry DNA in the final product.
But no matter where they originate from, there are a few gooseberry varietals in particular that seem to stand out among the bunch, including:
If the name is a bit too intimidating, take heart: This cultivar also goes by “Hinno Red.” But whatever you call them, they’re one of the most popular types of gooseberries.
Among their laundry list of admirable qualities is their tendency to grow big and plump, the juiciness this type of gooseberry is known for, and their surreally sweet flavor, which makes Hinno Reds good enough to eat straight off the bush.
A rare American breed that gets the blessing of many growers, this type of gooseberry is particularly resistant to some mildew strains that easily strangle the life out of other underprepared berries.
But there’s more to the Invicta than their superb immune systems. The plants are also known to grow early, blossom in heavy yields, and produce a fruit that’s particularly delicious and well-suited for baking needs.
A great leveler of the playing field, these types of gooseberries seem to have everything going for them.
Levellers are one of the naturally smoothest types of gooseberries – that is, they grow very few of the tint hairs that sprout up on other varietals – which makes them especially suitable for cooking and eating raw.
But they’re also particularly sweet, smell particularly good, and rock a particularly rare and striking color green, looking a bit more like mini-watermelons than any type of berry.
One of the world’s newest gooseberry varieties, Paxes also represent some of the most popular types of gooseberries grown today.
Feeding into their hype is their resistance to many common diseases and general hardiness in less-than-ideal conditions. But these types of gooseberries also have it in the culinary department, growing with far smoother skin than many other types, and a luscious, juicy and extra-sweet bite, that makes them ideal for pies, jams or just eating raw.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Whinham’s Industry represents one of the oldest types of cultivated gooseberries on the commercially-grown market.
These cultivars sport a striking deep red, with yellow veins, and a smoother skin than many of their gooseberry cousins. But they’re also one of the most strapping types of gooseberries, growing larger than many and in plants that are upright and not easily uprooted.
We guess what they say is true: What’s good for the gooseberry is, indeed, good for the gander.