Posted: July 9, 2013 in Food, garden, Rhode Island, Southern New England
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Gooseberries grow on a bush that can get anywhere from 3 to 10 feet tall, the branches having sharp spines on them, making picking the berries a bit of a challenge. Berry colors are usually green, though there are red and even purple varieties. They feature a skin on the outside much like a grape, and flesh with seeds on the inside. But they’re not super sweet…just sweet and tart enough.

Gooseberries are used mostly in desserts, but in some countries, like Portugal, people mix gooseberry juice with soda, water or even milk to make a popular beverage.

I’ve always enjoyed gooseberries simply straight off the vine. My Mom had several gooseberry bushes in her yard, and the early ripening fruits were a special treat in my childhood.
Moving to Rhode Island 20 years ago, I had hoped that I could grow my own gooseberry bushes someday. But unfortunately, a disease called white pine blister rust made that impossible. The way white pine blister rust survives is by traveling back and forth from 2 host species. One of them, obviously, is the white pine. The other is…well, the family of plants that gooseberries belong to: Ribes. (Currants belong to this family of plants as well.) So, the logic was that if you don’t plant a gooseberry near a white pine, the rust has nowhere to go and never gets past its first of 5 stages. You literally could not plant a gooseberry within a few miles of the nearest white pine, which for Rhode Island meant nowhere! And although most states got rid of this ban back in the 1960’s, Rhode Island kept it on the books for many more years. (Part of the problem is that many gardening catalogs and websites have not updated this information and still refuse to ship gooseberry plants to Rhode Island.)
But recently, the ban was lifted! I visited my pal Rick at Peckham’s Nursery in Little Compton, RI and I saw gooseberry bushes sitting there, just waiting to be bought. I scooped 2 up immediately and planted them in my yard. Rick explained that the ban on gooseberries had been lifted, in part because the disease was no longer a threat, and also because new varieties of gooseberries have been developed that are immune to white pine blister rust.
So the next time you see a local farmstand with a basket of funny-striped grapes, look again. It may just be a basket of gooseberries…a treat that we can now all enjoy again.

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