Friday, July 21, 2017

A very hairy gooseberry

All over the North Pennines there are traces of small settlements - usually mining communities or sometimes farmsteads - that have long since fallen into ruin. In some cases all you can see is a few piles of stones and the rectangular outline of building foundations, but often you can also find botanical traces of past gardens.

The commonest edible plants in these are rhubarb and gooseberries, which persist for generations, long after the gardeners who originally planted them have been forgotten. At this time of year the gooseberries start to ripen and I always make a point of tasting these, which mare mots likely to be forgotten varieties that are no longer cultivated. There are also scattered bushes well away from gardens, that would have been bird-sown. There is a large gene pool of feral gooseberry varieties out there in the countryside and maybe there might even be some that are resistant to diseases like gooseberry mildew.

This unusually hairy example was growing through an old wall in Teesdale and ripens to a deep ruby red. Its fruits are exceptionally sweet, though you need to rub off those hairs first it you want to eat it uncooked. It probably closely resembles the wild species that originated in continental Europe and which lost most of its bristles during cultivation.  If it was stewed or used to make chutney (gooseberries make excellent chutney) then they wouldn't matter too much.

I've rooted a cutting of this one, that's now growing in my garden. 

Apparently, gooseberries were first domesticated in the Middle Ages and there are records of plants being imported from France in 1275 for planting in Edward 's garden in the Tower of London.

Growing goooseberries competitively, to see who could produce the largest fruits, became popular amongst Lancashire weavers in the 1740s and the heaviest fruits weighed in at over 50 grams, over seven times the weight of the wild ones. By the early 1900s almost 1000 named varieties existed, cultivated by gooseberry clubs.

There is still an annual gooseberry growing championship at Egton Bridge near Whitby in North Yorkshire, which you can read about by clicking here. This year's show is on 1st. August.

The world record currently stands at 62 grams. 


  1. We've been travelling in north Scotland and on Orkney, the most fabulous rhubarb was flourishing in every tumbledown croft. Back home in Derbyshire I came across a plum tree dripping with delicious fruit in the middle of a Forestry Commission plantation, only then did I start to see the the ruin around it, the making of a fairy tale

    1. Interesting to see fruit trees surviving like that, isn't it? There's a russet apple near a ruined building on the Durham coast near Hawthorn dene. In a couple of months it will be time to sample hedgerow apples that have sprug from discarded cores!

  2. I have to be quick here to grab wild gooseberries. I check every day but miss the day that they ripen and some bird has snaffled the lot.
    Your gooseberry is a beauty.

    1. Blackbirds become really obsessive about raiding fruit bushes - right now i'm trying to get to our ripening raspberries before they do....


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