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Gooseberry

The gooseberry is a member of the genus Ribes. There are two commonly cultivated species of gooseberry, known as European gooseberry (Ribes grossularia) and American gooseberry (Ribes hirtellum). Related species include the currant, black currant, and buffalo currant. The European gooseberry is considered the pure species. However, while most American gooseberries cultivated today are genetically linked to European gooseberry species, the American gooseberry is a distinct and separate species.

The Gooseberry in the Old World

Gooseberries are native to North Africa and the Caucasus Mountains. Wild, native varieties can be found throughout the temperate regions of Asia, Europe, and North America. They are widely cultivated across the colder, drier regions of Western Europe and are ubiquitous in many parts of France, Germany, and Great Britain. In Scandinavia, gooseberries can be found thriving far north as the Arctic Circle. They thrive in climates that are humid and cool in summer and cold in winter. The gooseberry is a hardy deciduous bush that grows well in many soil types, and its fruit has long been cultivated as a food. It is commonly used in desserts, such as Gooseberry Fool, in which the fruits are stewed and mixed with cream.

Pre-Christian Europeans believed that fairies sought sanctuary in thorny gooseberry bushes when threatened, leading to the early English moniker “fayberry” or “fea- berry.” By the time of Henry VIII, the gooseberry had earned its place among England’s most common garden fruits. Gooseberry cultivation in Western Europe was already under way by the mid-1500s, with Dutch gardeners breeding hybrid varieties.

Initially, gooseberry juice was a prized treatment for fevers and was sometimes used to treat those stricken by the plague. Toward the end of the 18th century, British cottage gardeners began cultivating the plant in large numbers, with an eye toward breeding hybrids that produced larger fruits. At least a dozen common varieties existed at this time; some, such as the blue gooseberry, no longer exist.

 
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