Sydney Jordan Brown
Master Gardener 2000
In case you’re wondering, this is not a story about that golden-grilled-gander that graces many holiday feasts, nor those supplying feathers for your down-filled comforters.
This is about another goose that’s long been proudly perched upon its pedestaled-plateau at the other end of many a festive meal or sustainable food gathering.
Despite the U.S. ban in the early 1900s on importing hybrid gooseberry plants carrying a disease that decimated white pines in various Eastern states, the Northwestern native black gooseberry, Ribes divaricatum, was growing wild on the west coast.
Unlike R. hirtellum, native of the Northeastern/North central U.S., R. divaricatum is endemic, found almost exclusively west of the Cascades. This plant’s natural home ranges from open woodlands and coastal shrubbery to prairies and moist hillsides.
It’s also known as spreading gooseberry, straggle bush, wild and straggly gooseberry, American Worcesterberry, coastal black and common gooseberry.
The name comes from Old Norman/Middle English groses or grosier, the old French word for grosielle, meaning red currant. All of these come from the Frankish root krûsil, meaning “crisp berry,” not from serving it with goose.
Whatever you call it, this deciduous, spiny, multi-stemmed shrub offers much more than its feathered namesake. The fruits are perhaps the best-tasting wild gooseberries when they’ve ripened to a rich ebony-black.
These highly ornamental shrubs with miniature maple-like leaves grow delicate purple and white fuchsia-like flowers dangling like delicate lanterns from arching stems. They lend themselves well to the “wild” garden aesthetic.
Today, this plant is still highly valued by Northwest Native American tribes (for food, medicine and family) who continue to steward and restore wild populations while sustaining and strengthening the integrity of the ecology, their cultural heritage and wisdom.
Despite their thorny nature, this plant is a very low-maintenance, easy-to-grow perennial that’s great for sustainable landscaping. Note that it may well be wise to wear rose-pruning gloves to pluck the soft, ripened to ebony color, fruits. Despite their pricks, popping just one of these little gems in your mouth will make you glad you planted them.
You’ll also be pleased by their very high vitamin C content and their pectin that naturally thickens any jam or jelly. You can also cook them into chutneys and sauces for seafood or poultry, or bake them in tasty pies, tarts and cobblers. Yum!
Preferring full-sun to part shade and well-drained soils with adequate irrigation, self-fertile gooseberries will fruit in mid-summer in the third year. Topping out at 3 to 8 feet, they’ll blend well with natural surroundings.
The black gooseberry isn’t only a terrific native shrub, but will win raves for its natural beauty. It will also attract avian visitors; yet, astoundingly, deer avoid it.
So, the only goose cooked here is that of the native Western gooseberry.
Recipe: Wild gooseberry galette
1/2 cup each unbleached flour and white whole wheat flour (or gluten free equivalent)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon organic sugar
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut in 1/2” cubes
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water mixed with 1 teaspoon lemon juice
2/3 cup organic sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon flour
zest of one organic lemon
3 1/2 cups fresh black gooseberries, washed with stems and tails removed (cuticle or needle-bladed herb scissors work best)
2 tablespoons each organic sugar and milk
Mix flour, salt, and sugar in food processor. Then add butter and pulse about 30 seconds until resembling coarse cornmeal. Add 3 tablespoons of ice water-lemon juice mix and pulse just until dough holds together. Gather dough into a ball and chill 30 minutes.
For filling, mix 2/3 cup sugar and ground spices, and set aside.
Preheat oven to 400°. Roll dough out on a floured surface (silicone mats work best) to about a 14” round. This doesn’t need to be perfect since this is a rustic style of tart. Using mat, transfer dough to a baking sheet covered with heavy foil topped with parchment paper. Sprinkle surface with 2 tablespoons spiced sugar.
Toss berries and lemon zest with remaining spiced sugar and 1 tablespoon flour then dump in the middle of crust. Gently pull edges of crust up and pleat leaving about an 8” opening in the center. With a pastry brush, use milk to paint exterior of crust then sprinkle with sugar.
Bake about 40-50 minutes until berries are bubbly and crust is golden brown. Serves about 6-8. Great with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Native Foods Nursery (Dexter, OR)
6” to gallon-size plants
Friends of Sausal Creek Native Plant Nursery (Oakland, CA)