By Jim Moore
When our kids were much younger than they are now, we often went Sierra Gooseberry hunting. We eventually had several nice places to go to each year where we harvested enough berries to can up several pints of sauce for use on our breakfast hotcakes.
For those folks unfamiliar with Sierra Gooseberries, species Ribies roezlii, they are the porcupines of the gooseberry family in the Cascade and Sierra mountains of NorCal. The spines on these berries are hard, tough thorns! To pick these berries I armed my kids with long-handled tongs and long- sleeved jackets, for the branches of the gooseberry shrub are armed with their own thorny defenses. I, myself, used thick leather gloves to pick the berries. After picking a fair amount we would head home to make something tasty out of the berries.
Back then there was no internet to search for Sierra goose- berry recipes so at first it was trial and error on how to process the prickly berries into something tasty. Eventually we found a successful process for making a sweet and tangy syrup for use on hotcakes.
First, I washed the spiny berries using a garden hose; yep, and with a spray nozzle! Then I would steam them in a large stainless steel pot until they were close to bursting. After this I strained the berry pulp through a metal colander using a potato masher. This worked well and the berry skins and spines were discarded. Sugar was added to taste, and the sauce was simmered until a desired thickness was achieved. We either canned the sauce, or froze it. Our gooseberry sauce had a wonderful and unique taste and we just loved it on corn-bread pancakes. I never did write down a recipe.
As the years rolled along, our gooseberry patches were slowly overcome by other larger shrubs and pine trees. The kids lost interest in going out with dad to hunt for new berry patches and eventually so did I.
This last spring I did find an area out in the woods, with enough Sierra gooseberry shrubs in full bloom to provide a nice hopeful harvest. I went back frequently and took photos. In the middle of August they were close to red-ripe! I eagerly returned a week later with gloves and tongs for a long awaited harvest.
But, oh my, I was greatly disappointed to find that ‘all’ the berries growing in this new and good sized Sierra Gooseberry patch that I had been monitoring and photographing all summer long for this article… GONE! All I found was one half eaten berry under one of the berry shrubs! My last photos were taken just a week earlier. The evidence suggested wild critters of some sort. Bears, mule deer, and some rodents and birds are known to also savor these spiny berries, but I also suspect a human might have beat me to the harvest.
So here I am on a cold winter morning with no wild gooseberry sauce to put on my cornbread pancakes. Oh well, thats ok, my sweetened Choke Cherry sauce is pretty tasty also!