Gooseberries are small soft opaque fruits with finely veined skins that can be furry or smooth. They have an acidic flavour that is strident early in the season but becomes sweeter as the berries are more exposed to the summer sun. Widely considered the quintessential British fruit, gooseberries were in fact not recorded here until the 13th century and grow in cold countries right up to the Arctic Circle.
Green gooseberries may be the most familiar however they can also be red, yellow, or white (which look like large whitecurrants). Early gooseberries picked in late May are best pickled or used in savoury sauces. Red and yellow varieties are sweet enough to serve raw for dessert. The cape gooseberry, or physalis, is a different plant altogether.
Even when unripe, gooseberries are excellent for cooking. Their tangy flavour suits oily fish such as mackerel and salmon, plus veal, pork and roast game birds. Try them braised with carrots and dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Their high pectin content is a boon for making jams, jellies and other preserves such as fruit cheese and spicy chutneys. Gooseberries can be simply made into a compote to serve with cream or custard, or to fill a tart, crumble or steamed suet pudding. Good flavour matches include elderflowers, apples, lemon, sweet wine, sorrel, fennel, mint, parsley and nutmeg. The young leaves of the plant used to be included in salads.