I am most grateful to a reader of my regular column “Worth Preserving” in the Dundalk Harold and Flesherton Advance who got in touch with me about her over-abundance of gooseberries (thank you Jean). She generously offered 10 pounds and off I started on a gooseberry journey.

I first read a reputable source saying the gooseberries are so named because they were often served with (you guessed it) goose! According to British Food: A History, this isn’t the case. Although true that gooseberries pair well with goose and other poultry, the name comes from Old Norman/Middle English words “grosse, grosier” or, in French “groiselle” which means red currant. Yes, the gooseberry is a relative of currants. They are all part of the ribes genus of which there are 150 different species. Gooseberries date back to 15th century in England when there were growing registries and gooseberry clubs by the hundreds.

The gooseberry has a long history in part because it was a relatively easy bush to grow, provided early fruits, and was plentiful. What generations before didn’t know was how good gooseberries are for health. They are very high in Vit C, are antioxidants, are rich in fibre. They are associated with heart health, brain health, stabilizing blood sugar levels and immune system function. Not too shabby on the health front.

Gooseberries are a little finicky to work with. They need to have the tops and tails removed which is time-consuming to be sure. I decided I could cope with some “tops and tailing” but not for the whole 10 pounds.  I first chose a Bernardin recipe for Gooseberry Conserve that mixes gooseberries with orange and golden raisins, it’s a lovely combination of flavours that could be used for an accompaniment to meats, poultry or even a spice cake or ice cream. And then I turned my attention to gooseberry jelly using a recipe from “So Easy to Preserve” that is the recipe book from the University of Georgia, home of the National Centre for Home Food Preservation in the US. The jelly turned out to be a most gorgeous pink. Still with an edge of sweet/sour, I can see this jelly as an accompaniment to poultry or as a glaze on meats. If you like the little bit of tartness, the jelly would also be great for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Generous gifts lead to new learnings and experimentation. Sometimes nature’s bounty is in our backyard ready to share, to teach us about history and health, and to contribute to our winter pantry.

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