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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Wild gooseberry jam

As you can see the codger isn't getting much camera trap material these days, but as I was removing spines from my palate the other day, I thought I would share with you my secret for making wild gooseberry jam.

As you may know, wild gooseberries are usually rather prickly fruits. The local canyon gooseberries are among the spiniest, but some plants have tremendous loads of fruit.

Well, I'm an incurable wild food gatherer, and back in August when the gooseberries started to blush, I couldn't resist the temptation. The redhead agreed to cook them down according to a recipe I had found on the net.

Now that recipe makes no mention of disarming the berries, so we assumed that boiling the fruit would suffice to do the trick.

Not true, the jam was a beautiful deep cooked-gooseberry-color, but the berries looked a little bristly, and imparted an interesting textural quality to the otherwise delectable preserve. Unfortunately, no one in the extended family was interested in sharing in this culinary experience. The redhead concluded that it wasn't worth the effort, and advised me that if I had to have gooseberry preserves I would have to cook them myself.

Well, the next batch sat on the kitchen counter for several days, and I discovered that with dessication the spines actually become a little limp. They don't completely disappear, and the cooked fruit still looks a little bristly, but this was definitely an improvement.

Then I got a brilliant idea, which I want to share with the two or three other readers out there who might actually be deranged enough to try this. The solution to the problem of gooseberry spines is the blow torch.

I spread this last batch of berries on the table saw's cast iron surface, but you could use a cookie pan. Then just fire up your propane torch and singe off the prickles. When you boil down the torched fruit the spines will barely be noticeable to those with good vision, and older folks won't even see them. If you like slightly tart flavors, you will find the finished jam quite agreeable. The blackened seeds add an interesting visual quality, and the fascinating texture is still there.

Good luck, and be sure to wear gloves when you are picking next year.


brdpics said...

Heck- any recipe involving a blow torch sounds interesting to me!

So why are they called gooseberries?

Anonymous said...

Using a blow torch for despining gooseberries? Great idea! Could have been my own.


Anonymous said...

That jam looks good. Maybe that method would also work on removing the bristles from Lee's ears.

Mr. Smiley said...

the poor Redhead

Anonymous said...

I'm in stitches over your "recipe." Marshall got roped into the Gooseberry JAM thing when he married me. Since I was a little shaver, we've gathered goosberries using the bacon and barbeque tongs. Then we gently "clean" them of the dross, extra leaves, and branches by dumping them into the kitchen sink and filling it with water. We use rubber gloves to grab hands-full from the bottom of the water bath. Those berries that float have been compromised by worms and are pitched.

We place the wet berries in a big kettle, cover it, and put it over a very LOW heat/flame. After a couple of hours, the berries have all burst - and the house smells fabulously.

Let the mess - er - mixture cool. Then strain it through cheesecloth (or, in our case, old but well bleached undershirts). Use the juice for making jelly. If it doesn't gell, then you have excellent pancake syrup.

Try it - while a bit longer to create than the blow torch method, the results are a bit more predictable.

Cheers, Kate

Camera Trap Codger said...

Brdpics: I had to look it up, but it seems the "goose" in gooseberry is a corruption of various Euopean names for the gooseberry, like the French "grosseil". It would take a tough goose to eat these things, so I gather that the name has nothing to do with geese.

Wolf: Yes, I can clearly see you torching gooseberries.

Jayla: Not recommended. Use the tweezers.

Mr Smiley: The redhead is doing very well. No need for sympathy.

Kate: Excellent suggestions based on experience and intelligence. Tongs! Why didn't I think of that? Thanks a lot. I'll be ready when gooseberry season rolls around next year.

mdmnm said...

In West Texas, we used propane torches to burn the spines off prickly pear fruit that we collected to make into jelly. Beautiful color on the jam.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the tips. I found a bumper crop of prickly gooseberries growing next to the blackberry patch I've visted for years this year. It's like they all woke up after 5 years off and made a million berries!

Anonymous said...

A better way to deal with gooseberries is to put them in a large pot, and just cover with water. Boil until the skins split, then simmer for an hour. Strain through cheesecloth or an old sheet, then use the liquid to make jelly instead of jam. :)

Anonymous said...

where do you find wild gooseberries? I paid an arm and a leg for some green ones at a local far. those red ones look much prettier and I wish i had thought of barbecue tongs ;)