English Gooseberries, 1829

The gooseberry, if not a native of Britain, is a fruit much better adapted to cold than to warm climates. It was cultivated here in the reign of Henry VIII. In the south of Europe, it is small, tasteless, and neglected; and though it grows to a large size in the warmer parts of England, its flavour there is very inferior to that which it has in Scotland. Even in that country, the flavour seems to increase with the cold; for if there be warmth enough for bringing gooseberries to maturity and ripening them, the further north they are grown the better. The market gardeners about Edinburgh pay much attention to the culture and kinds of their gooseberries; but they are never equal in flavour to those which are grown at Dundee, Aberdeen, or in Inverness.

In England, the Lancashire gooseberries are the finest in appearance. They are very large; but there flavour is far inferior to that of the Scotch. Perhaps the inferiority of the the English varies maybe in great Part owing to the large sorts that are cultivated, - the finest, even in Scotland, being those which are middle sized.

Gooseberries are of various colours, white, yellow, green, and red; and of the colour there are many sorts. If any particular sort needs to be preserved, it must be done by cuttings, because the seeds of any sort produce not only all the known sorts, but new ones.

The gooseberry plant, under favourable circumstances, will attain a considerable age, and grow to a great size. At Duffield, near Derby, there was in 1821, a bush ascertained to have been planted at least 46 years, the branches of which extended 12 yards in circumference. At the garden of the late Sir Joseph Banks, at Overton Hall, near Chesterfield, there were two remarkable gooseberry plants, trained against a wall, each measuring more than 50 feet from one extremity to the other.

The yellow gooseberries have, in general, a more rich and vinous flavour than the white: they are on this account the best for dessert, and also for being fermented into wine. With the best kinds, and when none of the fruit is damaged, or overripe or under ripe, and when the wine is properly made, it is often difficult to distinguish it from champagne. It has the flavour and colour, and it sparkles like the best of the foreign wine.

Generally speaking the green gooseberries are inferior to the yellow, and even to the white: many of them however run large and are used for the sake of appearance. Large gooseberries in general, and large green ones in particular, are thick in the husk, and contained less pulp than those of a smaller size. The flavour is usually rich in proportion to the thinness of the husk. Some of the larger greens in gooseberries, especially those which are smooth or gourd shaped, and of a brown tinge, are almost tasteless or even disagreeable.

The red gooseberries are very varied in flavour, but are commonly more acid than the others. The same may be said of most other fruits; acids often change the and vegetable blues to red. In many fruit, and the gooseberry in particular, the amber colour is accompanied by the richest vinous flavour, while the whites tends to be insipid. When the green is deep and pure, sweetness seems to be the leading characteristic, as in the greengage plum, and the small Gascoigne gooseberry.

Among the red gooseberry as there are, however, many exceptions. Some of the older and smaller red sorts (especially that known by the name of the "old ironmonger") are very sweet. We cannot say which particular kind of gooseberry is the best, as every year produces new varieties. In the fruit catalogue of the RHS there are nearly two hundred kinds, and about 150 of them are the large Lancashire gooseberries. Their names are indicative of their humble origin. Examples are "Jolly Miner", "Jolly Painter," "Lancashire lad," "Pastime," "Top Sawyer," and so on. They are characteristic of the manners of the country in which they are produced, as the high sounding titles which distinguish the fruits of other nations are indicative of theirs.

The gooseberry shows of Lancashire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, and other manufacturing counties, are conducted with great system; and an annual account of them, forming a little volume, is printed and published at Manchester. The prizes given on these occasions are adapted to the manners of the homely people who contend for them. They are often a pair of sugar tongs, a copper tea kettle, a cream jug, or a corner cupboard. The proceedings of these contests are registered with as much precision as the records are of horse racing and when handed down in a family are as deeply valued as the Gold Cups of Newmarket.

The article above was taken from "A Description and History of Vegetable Substances used in the Arts and in Domestic Economy published by Charles Knight, London, 1829.

Nigel Deacon, Diversity website.

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