Hardy gooseberries are native to New England; however, the early English brought some of their own varieties with them when they came. Unfortunately, many were less hardy and didn’t like the warm weather, some survived and some did not. There is now a moratorium on new plantings of gooseberries in New Hampshire. According to the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands, even the so-called new resistant varieties can be infected with white pine blister rust that can weaken and even kill white pine trees. So I won’t be planting my own soon.
Fortunately for me, we have a wonderful old English variety called Ribes uva-crispa , in the Moffatt-Ladd garden, and I was able to pick some. The gooseberries at the museum are smaller yet, when ripe, very sweet. I picked the largest green ones that I could find for one of my receipt and then just picked others to make jam.
I have always wanted to make gooseberries that look like hops. There are many receipts out there, the first being Eliza Smith 1727, The Compleat Housewife. However, I decided to use W. A. Henderson The Housekeeper’s Instructor, 1792. This is a receipt that I found on Ivan Day’s site. I love his story about how Liza Smith impaled her split gooseberries on thorns, could be dangerous if you swallowed one. Like Henderson, I’m using linen thread.
The first thing I needed to do is wash them and pick through them. I then picked out the largest of the gooseberries. There were only a few that were still very green so I added some that were starting to ripen. Then I arrange six to be made into the imitation of hops. With a knife I cut the gooseberries from the stem side and split it into four without going all the way to the flower end. Then the arduous task of taking out all the seeds begins. Now this is when I wish I had a servant; it takes a long time to remove all the seeds.
After you have the gooseberries strung, they need to be blanched. I had picked grape leaves from the garden also and put a layer of them in cold water in a shallow pan. I then began to layer gooseberry hops in-between the leaves. The use of the leaves is to help the gooseberries keep their green color. I put a cover on it and let the water heat just until small bubbles formed. When blanched, I took them out and put them in ice water to stop the cooking. I did not want them to get to soft and fall apart.
With the gooseberries hops cooled, I put them on a plate, while I boiled sugar water and made thick sugary syrup to pour over them.
I took the jar to my talk on kitchens at the Museum and put some on the tiered stand to give everyone a good look at them. They do look like hops. When I brought them home I put brandy on the top of the syrup to keep them safe from bacteria.
I like them, and even though they are troublesome to make, they will look great as an eatable decoration around a squab or fish dish.
…The tart fruit is eaten ripe and often made into jellies, preserves, pies, and other desserts or wine. Hundreds of varieties are grown in northern Europe, many interplanted in fruit orchards. English gooseberries ( R. uva-crispa), popularly called grossularia, are native to the Old World and have long been cultivated for fruit.