Wild Gooseberries and Currants

Learn about wild gooseberries and currants and where to forage for the berries, includes wild gooseberry and currant recipes.

| September/October 1982

Foraging for gooseberries and currants

More than 80 kinds of gooseberries and currants grow wild in North America. The ripe round fruit can vary in size, color, and — to some degree — taste and might be either spiny or smooth-skinned. Early fall's the time to go a-gathering . . . and when you do, be sure to pick enough to make one of life's most toothsome culinary concoctions: a fresh gooseberry pie!


There's no better time than now to grab a berrying bucket and hit the trail in search of wild gooseberries and currants. 

A few years back, on an early autumn day, I met an elderly gentleman coming down the Mono Pass Trail — in Yosemite's High Sierra — carrying a creel full of trout . . . a bag stuffed with wild mushrooms . . . and best of all, at least a kettle's worth of freshly picked mountain gooseberries. When I asked him what he intended to make with the fruit, he answered, "Pie" . . . and I knew I'd found someone who shared my lasting fondness for one of humankind's better inventions.

Gooseberry pie! No other dish — not even such rare treats as that old trail-goer's mushrooms and trout — can equal a deep-dish, double-crusted gee-berry delight when it comes to setting my mouth to watering and my taste buds to anticipating. Actually, though, there are dozens of delectable ways to serve the plump fruits . . . and anybody — and that definitely means you — can find this forager's treasure, since the berries grow almost everywhere in the United States (as well as in most of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere).

In fact, there are more than 80 different species of gooseberries and currants (their equally palatable cousins) to be found on this continent. Of course, you're most likely to locate a profusion of the treats above the Mason-Dixon line or in any hilly, mountainous, or coastal areas . . . in short, they thrive wherever the climate is relatively cool and the soil more or less moist, although some varieties do grow even in rocky, semi-arid regions.

Most gooseberry and currant bushes — they're classified as shrubs, actually — grow from two to five feet high. Some types, on the other hand (particularly the ones found at high elevations), creep close to the ground and along rocks . . . while the golden currant, which is distributed quite widely throughout the West and much of the East, hangs from trees of up to ten feet tall.

In any case, the foliage of all the plants within genus Ribes can be loosely described as maple-like: The leaves generally have scalloped edges . . . each frond has three to five distinctive lobes ranging from obviously pointed to more rounded protrusions . . . and all have veins that fan out from the stalk at their bases like fingers on a hand.

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