Monday, June 29, 2009

Gooseberries!


A gooseberry is like a sweeter bit of rhubarb with a firm grape-like texture.

In April I wrote a blog called "The Currant Bush" about a plant in our yard that I was certain was a red currant. Well, it wasn't but it made for a good parable at the time. It turned out to be a "snowball" bush and I'm quite certain it got weed-whacked in a recent go round by two eager boys and a husband. But at the time, when spring was just beginning, it made for an interesting musing. [Moral of the story: don't count your red currants before they're ripe and for heaven's sake, don't go away for two weeks and leave your husband in charge of grounds and gardens! Furthermore, a man or boy with a weed-whacker is a dangerous thing.]


Picking gooseberries on our 13th wedding anniversary is awfully domesticated, don't you think? You have to be mindful of the thorns, however.


Four men and a gooseberry bush! [This more than made up for any over-zealous weed-whacking while I was away...but not quite for the foot high crab grass in our vegetable patch!]


Anna joins in to help ~ (I love that Henry grabbed the Adirondack chair)

Last summer in late June when my husband brought down our first load from New Hampshire, he also happened by the farm of two people who would become great friends of ours, Melvin and Anna. Temple noticed the new round barn on their property, saw Melvin in his field and stopped to visit. Temple has always wanted to build a round barn and was intrigued by Melvin's. They became fast friends–and Melvin built and supervised our hen house and other outbuildings last winter–and while Temple was here for a bit, he brought them over to our ridge. Anna said, "You have a gooseberry bush by your door!" I hadn't noticed its green fruits emerging before we returned in late May for our last summer in New Hampshire.


The rosy ones are only just a bit sweeter–the mix of the less ripe green and more ripe pink gooseberries adds good color and flavor.

One night when I called Kentucky to check on things, Temple announced that Anna had picked a turkey roaster full and would be making pies. Of course, I hadn't met either of them yet myself but was truly delighted that they were making themselves at home in my kitchen and in my bookshelves. Anna made gooseberry pies to freeze for our homecoming in August and the most luscious gooseberry jam, and still had plenty leftover for her family. I have loved gooseberries since I lived in England for a year: gooseberries with custard, gooseberry fool, gooseberry crumble. In New Hampshire it is illegal to grow them–or its cousin the red currant–because they harbor the white pine blister rust. So apart from those custardy English desserts, I had never seen one fresh. Imagine how excited I was to have a bush right outside our back door!













In his short story, "Gooseberries," Anton Chekhov writes of the dream of man who wanted a farm with a gooseberry patch. Like his play, The Cherry Orchard, it is a pastoral fable of sorts, set around the idea of farm and home and place:
Nikolay, sitting in his government office, dreamed of how he would eat his own cabbages, which would fill the whole yard with such a savory smell, take his meals on the green grass, sleep in the sun, sit for whole hours on the seat by the gate gazing at the fields and the forest. Gardening books and the agricultural hints in calendars were his delight, his favorite spiritual sustenance; he enjoyed reading newspapers, too, but the only things he read in them were the advertisements of so many acres of arable land and a grass meadow with farm-houses and buildings, a river, a garden, a mill and millponds, for sale. And his imagination pictured the garden-paths, flowers and fruit, starling cotes, the carp in the pond, and all that sort of thing, you know. These imaginary pictures were of different kinds according to the advertisements which he came across, but for some reason in every one of them he had always to have gooseberries. He could not imagine a homestead, he could not picture an idyllic nook, without gooseberries.

'Country life has its conveniences,' he would sometimes say. 'You sit on the veranda and you drink tea, while your ducks swim on the pond, there is a delicious smell everywhere, and . . . and the gooseberries are growing.'

He used to draw a map of his property, and in every map there were the same things -- (a) house for the family, (b) servants' quarters, (c) kitchen-garden, (d) gooseberry-bushes. He lived parsimoniously, was frugal in food and drink, his clothes were beyond description; he looked like a beggar, but kept on saving and putting money in the bank. He grew fearfully avaricious. I did not like to look at him, and I used to give him something and send him presents for Christmas and Easter, but he used to save that too. Once a man is absorbed by an idea there is no doing anything with him.
from 'Gooseberries' by Anton Chekhov

Anna picked a tussy-mussy of "Victoria Blue" salvia for me from my flower pots. She said it will dry and hold its color.








Eli holds some of the fruits of our labor–five of us picked the bush clean in a half hour and got several gallons worth of gooseberries. Anna and Melvin brought a gallon home, too.

Tomorrow morning after breakfast we will pick the stems and small beards, layer them on cookie sheets, freeze them and then roll them like frozen grapes into 2-quart freezer bags. There they will be until I have the inclination to make pies and jam. You have to love the merits of a big chest freezer!



2 comments:

Crystal Mudgett-Epley said...

If you have any surplus gooseberries let me know & I will buy them from you. Can't find any. ;-{ Next year I will probably just buy me some bushes, if I can find those.

Anonymous said...

This is Gooseberry 'Invicta' a variety that is quite resistant to mildew, but sadly not sawfly attacks. Trees For Sale