gooseberry lore and more, with josh kilmer-purcell

Gooseberries, copyright Beekman 1802

ONE OF THE FIRST FRUITS that Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge planted when they took ownership of historic Beekman 1802 farm in Sharon Springs, New York: gooseberries.  Now the city-turned-country pair are having a bumper gooseberry year—and Josh joined me on the radio to talk about that and other aspects of “The Heirloom Life,” the subject of the duo’s breakfast slide lecture in my town August 17 to help celebrate my next garden Open Day. I’ve pre-ordered a couple of copies of the “Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook” (due out in September) to share with some lucky winners, so read on for a chance to win–and some gooseberry lore, recipes and more.

prefer the podcast?

JOSH KILMER-PURCELL of The Beekman 1802 Boys, was the guest on the latest edition of my weekly public-radio show and podcast. Listen anywhere, anytime: Locally, in my Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) region, “A Way to Garden” airs on Robin Hood Radio’s three stations on Monday at 8:30 AM Eastern, with a rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. It is available free on iTunes, the Stitcher app, or streaming from RobinHoodRadio.com or via its RSS feed. The August 5, 2013 show can be streamed here now. Robin Hood is the smallest NPR station in the nation; our garden show marked the start of its fourth year in March, and is syndicated via PRX.

“It’s my single-handed mission to bring gooseberries back into popular culture,” says Josh, who showcases this “underrated fruit” regularly on the Beekman1802 website (and yes, there are recipes in the new cookbook, due next month from Rodale Press). Neither Josh nor Brent could even recall eating a gooseberry until they grew their own, however.

There weren’t actually any gooseberries growing at the landmark Beekman property, either, when Josh and Brent took ownership in 2007. While tackling the garden cleanup, they uncovered some currant bushes—botanical cousins to the gooseberry in the genus Ribes.  It was through subsequent reading about black and red currants that Josh and Brent came upon listings for gooseberries, and ordered about a dozen different varieties.

That was also how they came upon the fascinating story of the gooseberry’s history—once a much-prized treasure and now relatively uncommon by comparison.

The reason for their fall from popularity resulted from what Josh calls “a double whammy.” They were a giant fad, or craze, in the 19th century, when gooseberry clubs formed throughout England, and even in America, with competitions for who could grow the largest gooseberry of all.

“There were many weird ways to grow them,” Josh says—including propping up saucers of milk under the blossom end of the flowering gooseberries, “in the belief that the milk proteins would be absorbed and create a larger fruit.” (At Beekman 1802, they could use goatmilk from some of their famous herd—but they’re not!)

“Like any fad: When it was over, it was over,” says Josh.  And if growers’ fickle affections were not enough to practically erase the plant from the American landscape, then came this: The white pine blister rust outbreak took hold, and currants and their cousins the gooseberries were actually outlawed because of the danger they posed to five-needled pines.

The detailed story of the gooseberry’s rise and fall is told on Beekman1802 (who knew all these curious bits of history?)

Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge, the Beekman BoysWhat? No gooseberries on hand at your place yet? How about a baking Josh and Brent’s Mini Strawberry Thyme Tart instead?  Or making Peaches in Cilantro Syrup? (The Beekman Boys’ simple syrup, a recipe that usually calls for equal parts sugar and water, is made with honey, and they use a little less water than they would if sugar were the sweetener.)

But strawberries combined with thyme, or cilantro with peaches? Hmmmm….

“We’re all about highlighting everything as simply as possible: the single note of the fruit, and the single note of the herb,” says Josh—and not just something expected (such as blueberries with a dash of cinnamon).

I suppose it all makes perfect sense, since nothing about the Beekman Boys is ordinary, run-of-the-mill—which is exactly how they like it.
Gooseberry pie, from Beekman1802.com website

more beekman goodies

how to win the upcoming cookbook

Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert CookbookI’VE PRE-ORDERED TWO COPIES of “The Heirloom Dessert Cookbook,” including more than 100 recipes, to share with you. (The prizes will be shipped to arrive on publication date, September 10.)

All you have to do to enter is to answer this question in comments below:

What’s your gooseberry story? Every tried one? Do you grow them in your garden?

As I admitted in on the podcast, I planted gooseberries decades ago here, but they are no longer in residence. I think I pulled them (too sour or unpleasant-tasting—which I now understand was probably my poor choice of variety, ‘Pixwell’). Maybe I’ll try again!

No answer? That’s OK. Just say “count me in” and I will. I’ll draw two random winners after entries close at midnight Monday, August 12th. Good luck to all—and please do join us August 17th if you can. Details and ticket information here.

(Photos copyright Beekman 1802.)

  1. Dana says:

    Having immigrated from England at an early age I grew up eating gooseberry jam, tarts, and pies. Just polished off a tart gooseberry tart with berries picked from the garden.

  2. T Melton says:

    Count me in..
    When my husband and I were first married we lived in a very small rural town. The house we purchased had belonged to an elderly lady.The home had been, for many years neglected. After we moved in and began to give the house the love it deserved, the town on lookers would walk past to see what was being updated next.All the older people would ask, what did we do with the gooseberries.. I had never heard of a gooseberry and I knew we didn’t have any in our yard. Well after some investigating we had discovered the elderly lady had indeed had a goose berry patch and her children had taken the gooseberries.So I was anxious to find out why so many people had been disturbed that we had done something with their beloved gooseberries, when a few years later while hiking in a near by state recreation area I came a cross a gooseberry plant with a couple of gooseberries on it, I had wished I had found enough to make a pie, someday maybe I will.

  3. Jennifer Lennie says:

    Count me in!
    I have never tried a gooseberry, and until this year I hadn’t eaten a currant either. My husband and I just purchased a 2.5 acre property in southern Ontario and the previous owners had planted a few currant bushes here and there. I only had a few to taste, and I believe the birds got the rest before I was able to harvest any more!
    I hope to add many more plants that bear fruit (bushes, trees, vines…) in the years to come. Maybe a gooseberry or two will make it into the mix too!

  4. Teri Chace says:

    Count me in, please!

    Curious, fun gooseberry fact: evidently in the UK, a “third wheel” person is also called “a gooseberry.” Here it is, used in a sentence, “Last year, I went out to dinner at Jamie Oliver’s new restaurant with Kate and William, but all they did was snog. I felt like such a gooseberry!”

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