The gooseberries in our backyard try to get our attention with their tart little green offerings every year in the mid- to waning days of spring, but mostly they end up being overlooked as contributors to our partly wild larder. Why? Mainly because I could never get enthusiastic about the taste, which is mostly just tart. I’ve tried letting the berries ripen past the green stage into their ruddier maturity, which tones down the tartness a bit, but doesn’t seem to replace it with anything better.
These are not, in my book at least, munching-off-the-bush berries. Something must be done to them. In most recipes that seems to involve copious amounts of sugar and calling it pie filling or pudding, which gives a sweet-sour contrast that can be really tasty (ah, the rhubarb puddings of my youth!), but that never seemed to tempt me enough to get moving.
This year, however, Nadia came home with a small supply of gooseberries from somewhere else, so I determined to figure out something to do with them other than making sugar bombs out of them. I set out to do some research and expand my gooseberry horizons, as it were, and found that there really are a few things to do besides pastries, puddings, jams and preserves.
In particular a recipe I found online for gooseberry ketchup caught my attention. It was easy and fast, with a short list of ingredients. Great place to start! So I marched out the back door and harvested more berries from our own bushes and got to work. Mind the stickers!
I said the recipe was fast and easy and so it is, as you will soon see. Getting to the cooking point, however— not so much, since the tough little fibrous ends and stems of each berry have to be removed. Gooseberries are small and it takes several many to make a cup, so I recommend parking thyself in thy backyard and observing nature while cleaning the berries or putting on a video— preferably something educational, to make yourself feel virtuous. A cooking show maybe! Back in the day farmers/gardeners would make a family affair (well, women and kids, mostly) out of shelling peas or dry beans and similar tedious tasks, making a social occasion out of it, maybe around the family radio. You can try that, I guess.
At last, however, the berries were beautiful and the fun began. I piled a cup of the berries into a saucepan with a bit of sugar (not much), some cider vinegar, chopped onions, a little salt, Worcestershire sauce, and tomato juice and cooked the whole concoction down for about fifteen minutes at a good simmer.
And it was not bad. Not bad at all. Nadia agreed and so did some of her colleagues who got samples. So I got ready to make another batch and did some tweaking. Here is where the recipe stands at this point—a little, but not too, different from the original.
1 cup cleaned gooseberries
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbs. red wine vinegar
1-2 minced garlic cloves
~3 tbs. chopped onions
~1/3 cup tomato sauce or paste (too much seems to make it too tomatoey and less gooseberry-ey.
1 tbs. plus a glug Worcestershire sauce
1-3 splats soy sauce (splats are glugs through one of those pour spouts)
1/4-1/2 tsp. salt
Throw all into a saucepan and simmer for 10-20 minutes. The gooseberries should get soft and start to break down. Stirring helps to do that. Taste and adjust ingredients as desired and continue to cook uncovered until sauce thickens. The original recipe called for pressing the mixture through a fine sieve and discarding the pulp. Well, not in this house. We like the pulp and we’re keeping it.
This is a good sauce for meats and, Nadia discovered, is also really tasty on one of our easy snacks—melted cheese on crispy toast. I expect that a grilled cheese sandwich would be great with this stuff. I also expect it would be great to baste with on the grill.
So. Now that I’m curious I’m ready to tackle more gooseberry cuisine, depending on the supply of berries. For example, I found a recipe for Moroccan chicken tagine that had been adapted to replace the preserved lemons with rhubarb. Rhubarb to gooseberry doesn’t seem like such a quantum leap, now does it?
We’ll let you know.