Sunday, 18 July 2010


Gooseberries are native to southwestern Asia and Europe. It’s believed that they grow right up to the foothills of the Himalayas. However the so-called Indian gooseberry, or Amla, is Emblica officinalis, but the gooseberry that we know is Ribes grossularia and the one that grows on the subcontinent, is Ribes uva. So they are closely related although not exactly the same. The wild variety is a straggly little thing compared to the cultivated variety. In northern England there have been huge gooseberry bushes. One was 12 feet in diameter, apparently.
In the Middle Ages, the gooseberry was referred to as the Feaberry or feverberry as it was believed to help cure fevers. It is rich in vitamins A and C, and so would be good to ward off colds and flu. It was first cultivated in Britain in the 16th century when physicians recommended it as a cure for the dreaded plague.
John Gerard, writing of the Feaberry said it was ‘greatly profitable to such as are troubled with a hot, burning ague.’ In Ayurvedic medicine the gooseberry has many uses and is often used in powder form. Traditional practitioners believe it has cooling properties, so agree with Gerard. However, they use the gooseberry for a whole host of cures. They say it’s good for diabetes, heart problems, illnesses related to old age, gastric problems and believe it gives a boost to the immune system. The gooseberry helps to balance the body’s nitrogen levels so can help those who need to gain weight, too. Basically if you eat Amla every day, you will ward off a number of illnesses.
If you make a paste with Amla by boiling 6 with a cup of milk, then removing the seeds and mashing them to a pulp, you should rub the paste onto your hair roots. Leave it on your scalp for 20 minutes, then wash your hair. This is supposed to prevent hair loss.
Acne sufferers should mix 20 grams of Amla powder with a little honey and ghee. The mixture should be taken internally to clear the blood and so rid the skin of unsightly spots.
In spring it is said that the gooseberry is more valuable in herbal medicine than rhubarb.
Gooseberries were extremely popular by the early 19th century in England. People grew bushes in their gardens and held fairs to celebrate the gooseberry. Fairs and gooseberry shows are still held in the Midlands and northern England, where people compete for the best gooseberry pie or tart and see who has produced the biggest gooseberry etc.
The phrase ‘to play gooseberry’ is believed to have originated in the 19th century, when young couples were carefully chaperoned. Often the chaperone would distract herself by picking gooseberries in the hedgerows. So a chaperone was known as a gooseberry. And as for the tale of babies being found under gooseberry bushes, perhaps this was because in Victorian times every coy middle class family had a gooseberry bush in their garden, so babies could be left under one. Who knows?

500 gr gooseberries, topped and tailed
2 tbsps sugar
125 gr butter
250 gr plain flour
2 tbsps sugar

Put the gooseberries in a saucepan with a little water and 2 tbsps sugar, bring to the boil then simmer for 20 mins.
Make the topping. Rub the flour into the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and mix well
Preheat the oven to a medium heat.
Put the gooseberries in an ovenproof dish, you don’t need to thicken the mixture as gooseberries contain pectin, a thickening agent. Pour the crumble topping over the gooseberries. Dot here and there with butter and place in the preheated oven
Cool for 20-30 mins until the topping is golden brown, but not burnt.
Serve with custard or cream.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


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