Growing and eating gooseberries

Growing soft fruit, like raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries in your own garden is a wonderful thing – it’s not too complicated, the results are delicious, there are savings to be had after a bit of initial investment and you have a wonderful supply of delicious fruits that aren’t always easily available.

We absolutely love gooseberries, but they are, sadly, very hard to find in the shops, so it was a no-brainer to start buying gooseberry bushes a few years back. If you’d like to have a go at growing gooseberries, here are some hints and tips.

Growing and eating delicious gooseberries - some hints, tips and ideas on growing and eating this delicious soft fruit, with recipes too

Not just the green hairy ones…

If you have rather unpleasant memories of rock hard, very sour and rather hairy fruit, growing on super-spiky branches, think again. There is more than one type of gooseberry. Pax (which has very few thorns) and Hinnonmaki Red are both dessert gooseberries that you can eat straight from the bush (they’re obviously great to make jam, preserves, crumbles, pies etc.). These are the ones that we grow – they are just beginning to ripen into beautiful red fruits, after the lovely sunny weather we have had.

Hinnonmaki red gooseberries beginning to ripen - click through for hints and tips on growing and eating delicious gooseberries

But we love the green ones too, and will be buying a couple of Invicta bushes in November, mainly because we have recently discovered how absolutely delicious they are paired with strawberries.

A heavenly match – gooseberries and strawberries

We have tried this amazing strawberry and gooseberry crumble recipe and made jam with a brilliant recipe from Eastbourne allotments (I used ordinary sugar rather than jam sugar as specified, and still got an excellent set – it produces a super bright red strawberry jam).

But the pièce de résistance was this recipe for Strawberry and Gooseberry Summer Pudding, which we had for lunch today. We used homegrown strawberries too.

Strawberries and gooseberries make a great combination for delicious desserts - click through for hints on growing and cooking gooseberries.

Because we have a glut of strawberries, and probably as much strawberry jam as we can eat in a year already, I have been making and freezing strawberry and gooseberry compote, that I am going to use to make more summer puddings and crumbles later in the  Here’s my quick recipe:

Gooseberry and Strawberry Compote

  • Servings: enough for a 4-person crumble or summer pudding
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 250g of green gooseberries, topped and tailed
  • 150g strawberries, hulled
  • 75g sugar
  • zest of a lemon

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C (Gas 4) whilst you are preparing the fruit.
  2. Wash the prepared fruit and then put it in a baking dish with the sugar and lemon zest.
  3. Bake for 10 minutes, then give the mixture a stir, and back for a further 15-20 minutes, until the gooseberries are soft.

You can double the amounts if you have loads of fruit – but don’t double the lemon zest, just use the same amount.

More gooseberry recipes

I’ve blogged some of gooseberry recipes – here they are:

There’s also this great article in the Daily Telegraph (the only saving grace of the DT is it’s food writing, which is just excellent) with a lovely list of the most delicious looking gooseberry recipes – if that doesn’t tempt you to buy a couple of bushes, I don’t know what will!

General tips for growing gooseberries

Here’s an excellent article at Garden Focusesd about growing gooseberries – it’s so thorough and covers every eventuality, so I won’t go into huge detail here, but just share my experience. We grow our gooseberries in large plastic plant pots (I have repotted into larger pots as the plants have grown), in good quality compost, which works extremely well because it is so flexible in a small garden, and we have such heavy soil (and they have moved house twice!). In the early spring I mulch the bushes, and I feed them monthly with a dilute tomato feed during spring and summer. In the winter I just prune out old branches, damaged branches, and any growth in the centre of the bush to keep the branches well-spaced – this reduces the chance of fungal diseases and makes the berries easier to pick. The other advantage of growing gooseberries in containers is that it makes it easier to defeat the enemy!

Defeating gooseberry pests

In my garden, the gooseberry harvest is always in great peril – threatened by the gooseberry sawfly and wood pigeons… No doubt you will have the same problem!

Gooseberry sawflies

The gooseberry sawfly (here are some pictures at the RHS) lays its eggs in the soil round the base of the bushes, and the caterpillars, when they hatch, climb up through the centre of the bush, eating leaves as they go. And they eat A LOT! They can defoliate a bush in a few days, which although it doesn’t effect the fruit in the current year, will definitely cause a smaller harvest in future years and can eventually kill a bush. You can obviously use pesticides (ugh) or nematodes (a biological control), which I gather are effective, but expensive. The most effective method though, is to pick the caterpillars off the bushes as the start to appear. You need to look at the centre of the bush, on the lower branches first, and just pick and squish (sorry).

Because I read that the sawfly eggs are in the soil round the bush, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I grow my gooseberries in containers, and in the very early spring, I scrape a couple of inches of soil away from the top of the pots (being careful not to damage the roots), and replace it with fresh compost and a mulch. This has massively reduced my sawfly problem – and combined with regular checks for caterpillars, has been very effective.

Birds

Last year’s gooseberry harvest was eaten by a pair of wood pigeons virtually overnight, so this year I invested in a proper fruit cage from Harrod Horticultural. My garden looks a bit like Fort Knox, but I am protecting the gooseberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants from all the winged thieves:

Fruit cage protecting gooseberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants in my vegetable garden

This is the system that I bought – it’s 1.2m high, 1m wide and 3.5m long – it comes complete with netting and ground fixings and cost me just under £90. Worth every penny when I see the sad longing looks on the faces of the wood pigeons, but you can make cages yourself with bamboo and netting, or just throw netting over the top of the bushes. The main thing is to make sure insects can still get in to pollinate the flowers – so the nets do not go over the bushes until the tiny fruits are visible.

I really hope I have tempted you to have a go at growing some delicious gooseberries – it is so satisfying to eat your own home-grown harvest. I’d love to hear your experience of growing other varieties of soft fruit. I have blueberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants too – what works for you?

Recipe: No-bake Easter Crunch Cake

Easter Chocolate Crunch Cake no-bake

A super-fast recipe just in case you don’t have enough chocolate in your life this weekend. Fun to make with kids too. If you want to make it gluten-free then you can use gluten-free digestives – they work really well.

Easter Crunch Cake no-bake

Easter Crunch Cake

Ingredients

  • 200g 70% chocolate
  • 100g butter
  • 200g digestive biscuits
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 200g mini eggs
  • 50g dried cherries (optional)

Directions

  1. Line a 20cm x 20cm (8inch) baking tray (I use one with a loose bottom which is really helpful when getting the cake out of the tin) with foil or baking parchment – the liner needs to come up the sides of the tin.
  2. Break the chocolate into small pieces and put into a heatproof bowl with the butter. Put the bowl over a pan of water on a very low simmer and stir until the chocolate and butter are melted and the mixture is smooth a glossy. Take the bowl off the pan and leave to cool for a minute or two.
  3. Put the biscuits in a large bowl and smash them up, using the end of a rolling pin. Alternatively put the biscuits in a strong polythene bag, tie closed and bash with a rolling pin. Don’t reduce the biscuits to crumbs, you need smaller and larger pieces.
  4. Stir the syrup and cocoa powder into the melted chocolate, along with the broken biscuits and the 3/4 of the mini eggs and the cherries (if using).
  5. Put the mixture into your prepared baking tray and press down. Sprinkle the remaining mini-eggs over the cake and press them down a little.
  6. Refrigerate for at least an hour, then cut into 12-16 pieces. You will need a very sharp knife, so watch your fingers.
  7. This will keep for up to a week in an airtight tin. I tend to keep it in the fridge so it stays fairly firm.

Happy Easter to you all!

Recipe: Oat Bran Buns

This is one of those happenstance baking recipes that worked out really well. I often fiddle around with bread and cake recipes, trying to add more nutrition or use up ingredients that I bought for something else that didn’t work out. So, this time round, I had oat bran in the cupboard, and remembered how delicious the rolled oats are in my Sticky Oat and Currant Buns, so thought I would try some everyday buns for sandwiches etc. using the oat bran.

Oat bran buns header

Oat bran is one of those foods where the rather dull appearance belies the great nutritional value it has – it reduces bad cholesterol, the risk of coronary heart disease and some studies say it reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes because of its calming influence on your blood sugar levels. It’s a great source of dietary fibre, contains protein, and has the effect of making you feel fuller, for longer, if you are trying to lose weight. The bran gives these buns and slightly sweet, nutty flavour which we all enjoy, so it’s a really easy way to add oat bran to our diet.

Oatbran buns recipe

I use Dan Lepard’s intermittent method of kneading bread dough (outlined in the recipe) – feel free to ignore and just knead in your usual way (or in a stand mixer) if you prefer. I also boil the milk and let it cool, rather than just bring it up to the right blood heat temperature – again, I follow the Lepard advice here, which says that boiling the milk (to destroy a particular enzyme in they whey protein) produces a lighter crumb. Again, feel free to go your own way – and of course you can use a non-dairy milk and not have to worry about this at all!

Oat Bran Buns

  • Servings: makes 12 buns
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 400g whole milk/non-dairy alternative weighed directly into a saucepan
  • 100g oat bran
  • 450g strong breadmaking flour (I use a combination of 250g wholemeal and 200g white, anything works!)
  • 50g olive oil or rapeseed oil
  • 1 tsp fast action yeast (if you want to use fresh, you need about 10g – dissolve it in the milk when it is at blood heat).
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp oil for kneading

Method

  1. Bring the whole milk to the boil and then leave to cool until just at blood heat (you can put the pan into cold water to speed this process up). If you are using non-dairy milk, just warm it to blood heat.
  2. Measure the oat bran, flour, yeast and salt into a large bowl.
  3. When the milk is cool enough, add it to the flour/bran mix, along with the oil, and stir the ingredients together (I find a knife works really well, or you can just go in with your hands), until combined. If the dough seems a bit dry and crumbly, feel free to add an extra tablespoon of liquid – wet dough is ALWAYS better than dry. Cover and leave to stand for 10 minutes.
  4. Put a little oil on your work surface, turn the dough out onto the surface and knead for about 10 seconds. Put the bowl over the dough and leave for another 10 minutes. Knead again, then leave for another 10 minutes. Knead briefly again, then leave the dough in the bowl, with a damp cloth over the bowl, until it has doubled in size. In my always-chilly kitchen, this took another hour – but check after 30 minutes if you have a nice warm kitchen!
  5. Divide the dough into 12 pieces (about 80g each) and shape into buns. Put the buns onto a baking tray lined with baking paper/parchment, then cover and leave the buns to rise for 30 minutes or more. My usual method for this is to put the entire tray into a large carrier bag, and fold it closed, making sure the bag doesn’t touch the buns, but you could use a floured tea-towel or your own preferred proving method.
  6. Switch on your oven to pre-heat to 220C/Gas 7 part way through the second rise. The buns are ready to bake when they have risen appreciably and have batched (i.e. they will be touching each other on the baking tray – unless you have an enormous oven and baking tray of course!). To tell if they are really ready, poke one of the buns very very gently with the tip of your finger, if the little indentation stays, then the yeast is slowing down, and the buns are ready to bake – if the indentation springs back up quite rapidly, you can leave the buns for a bit longer. Don’t be tempted to rush this phase, if they are not risen properly, the buns will be leaden!
  7. Bake for 5 minutes at 220C, then turn your oven down to 200C and bake for another 10-12 minutes. If you feel that the buns are getting a little over-brown, you can rest a piece of foil gently on top of them.

Oatbran buns recipe close up

Hope you enjoy these!

***

Support Very Berry – visit my sponsors! Duck Egg Threads is the place to go for Liberty lawn and Pure Elements from Art Gallery Fabrics – a perfect combination.

Duck Egg Threads ad