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What is a Gooseberry?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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The gooseberry is a small round fruit that comes in hundreds of varieties. Most plant experts suggest the earliest cultivars were from in Northern Africa, but the fruit is now grown widely throughout Northern Europe and in North America.

Gooseberries grow on a bush that stands about 3 - 5 feet (0.91 - 1.52 m) high. The bush has spines, making picking the fruit a little harsh on the hands. In North America, the gooseberry’s season extends from May to August. One finds them most frequently in June, but this depends on temperature and location. Gooseberries also seem to withstand harsher temperatures. The makes them easy to grow in areas with frosts and snow.

The fruit itself is usually comparable in size to blueberries. They can be round, oblong or teardrop shaped, depending upon their variety, and come in a delightful color range, from green to red to purple. The interior flesh of the berry will match the color of the skin, but has a slightly translucent appearance.

Most liken the unripe gooseberry in taste to a sour grape. Ripe ones are harder to find, but they are often compared to the Muscat grape in flavor. Since it is difficult to obtain riper gooseberries, the fruit is often used with sugar in dessert recipes.

The gooseberry definitely responds well to baking and sugaring, and tarts and pies are common. Similarly, gooseberries may be added to the many baked puddings in place of raisins or currants. They also can be stewed, or used in crunches or cobblers. People who can find ripe gooseberries may prefer simply eating them raw or adding them to fruit salads. They also provide interesting texture and taste in green salads.

The term "playing gooseberry" is used in an idiomatic expression unique to the British and the Canadians. This idiomatic phrase is very much like being referred to as "the third wheel," and can be used to a person who accompanies a romantically linked couple on a date, for example. It is hard to determine if the expression derives from the fact that the single person may blush from the romantic doings of the couple, thus resembling a gooseberry. Alternately, perhaps the single person is too "thorny" in nature to procure his or her own date.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon960565 — On Jul 11, 2014

I live 15 minutes north of Boston and my gooseberries are beginning to ripen. It is the second week of July. My plant was given to me and has been there for three years. This is the first year we have fruit. At first the fruit is green and very hard and as it ripens it has turned soft and reddish. Green it tastes very sour, but when ripe, it tastes like a plum to me. Hope that answers some questions.

By anon188027 — On Jun 20, 2011

I am growing gooseberries for the first year. There are berries on all three plants. My question is when do I harvest? What's the best thing to try with them? Pie?

By anon164467 — On Mar 31, 2011

@anon164403: Because your plant is indoors, you need to hand pollinate your flowers in order for the fruits to grow.

By anon164403 — On Mar 31, 2011

i bought a gooseberry plant several years back. It has been growing quietly in the same place for about five years. It's about 4 feet tall and sprawling vines. It has never have had a berry on it at all. Lots of flowers, just never a berry or any fruit of any kind. What am i doing wrong or what is going wrong with the plant? It flowers, then the flowers just fall off and it just goes on staying green.

By anon92070 — On Jun 25, 2010

What is the Arabic Name for Gooseberry? and where we can find it in the Middle East area? can it be found in Jordan? Thanks.

By anon90386 — On Jun 15, 2010

I just purchased a gooseberry bush at my local Walmart in southern ontario. I have never seen nor tasted a gooseberry, thought I would give it a try.

By anon87030 — On May 27, 2010

When do gooseberries ripen in New England?

By anon79189 — On Apr 21, 2010

Answer to question three(3)

Yes, they do grow in this country. We had a very nice bush in South Jersey (Woodbine,N.J.) I would love to have another bush. We now live in Millville, N.J and I cannot find a gooseberry bush anywhere. Does anybody know where I can get a few?


By anon72608 — On Mar 23, 2010

Check out Las Palitas Nursery in CA for CA. natives gooseberries:

Quail and ground birds prefer the thorns on gooseberries to the thornless currant.

By anon43619 — On Aug 31, 2009

unripe gooseberries are hard and therefore easier to pick and ship. fresh ripe gooseberries are sweet and soft like grapes. we had red and black currents in Toronto Canada i think gooseberries would do fine.

i am sure they grow fine in new york state.

By anon38425 — On Jul 26, 2009

Why are ripened gooseberries so rare?

By stare31 — On Jul 22, 2009

Gooseberries are also native to southwest Asia.

By anon36095 — On Jul 09, 2009

I love the expression "playing gooseberry." I've used it a few times to blank stares in the U.S. Wish I had the origin. Maybe something to do with being a goose?

By the way, do they grow gooseberries in this country? I also miss black currants.

Anyone have any info?

By anon2282 — On Jul 05, 2007

Gooseberries actually grow in threes of off a single stem hence the 3rd wheel comparison...

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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