Gooseberry jam is one of those old fashioned pleasures that your grandma raves about, but it’s hard to lay hands on it these days. Since gooseberries are making their way back into farmers markets across the country, it’s easy enough to make your own homemade gooseberry jam.
My husband raves about gooseberry jam, and he grew up eating it as a child in Oregon. They had huge gooseberry bushes in the back yard. The plants are more commonly grown in England, and where they thrive in cool, wet weather and part shade. With its rainy climate, the pacific northwest isn’t much different and the bushes are dripping with fruit midsummer.
Three years ago we planted our own gooseberry bushes in the yard here in Vermont, and while they’ve born modest crops every year, this year has been consistently wet, cool and overcast. I’ve been watching those little orbs develop on the gooseberry plants, and repeating over and over in a sing-songy voice, “There’s going to be gooseberry jam!” Add a bit of happy bouncing and you get the idea.
My four-year-old is a serious jam fiend, but she also loves fresh fruit. I told her we’re saving these beauties for a special gooseberry jam and convinced her to let the bushes be. My two-year-old, on the other hand, is a different story. I’ll admit that I tricked him into believing that these are special berries just for geese, and he’s been watching them out the window waiting to see when the Canada geese will land to collect their prize.
A little bit of deception perhaps, but all in the name of gooseberry jam, so it’s worth it. He’ll thank me later…
In all his watching, not one goose, but this week alone we’ve seen a flock of turkeys, half a dozen deer, robins, and even a weasel. None of them touched the gooseberries, of course, they’re just for geese…
The crop was just about ripe, literally days away and all of them were still hanging heavy on the branches. Tomorrow, or the next day, I thought…it’s gooseberry jam day.
Of course, that’s when our free ranging chickens got the memo that we were saving something special for another breed of poultry. Not to be outdone, they descended in mass and stripped the bottom foot of each bush in just minutes. My dutiful gooseberry observer cried fowl, and I ran out to chase them off, but they’d made away with the better part of the gooseberry harvest.
Luckily our bushes are pretty tall, and some of the fruit was saved. I managed to harvest just a single bowl of plump ripe gooseberries for my jam.
Gooseberries can be either red or green, and red gooseberries will yield a deep blood red jam similar to a red currant jam. (They are closely related after all.) In past years, the red gooseberries have been most of our harvest, as those bushes tend to bear more heavily on our land.
Unfortunately, they also tend to grow a bit shorter, and the bright red fruit make them a lot easier to spot by greedy little gooseberry stealing chickens. I had hoped to make two batches, a bright red version, and a deep green version. No luck this year, but really it’s just cosmetic, and regardless of color, gooseberry jam tastes the same.
How to Make Gooseberry Jam
I fell victim to that age-old folly, county your gooseberries before they’re ripe, and started researching gooseberry jam recipes over a month ago. An old fashioned fruit, I assumed it’d be a lot like making blackcurrant jam, with a long gradual boil before the jam reached gel stage. Not so!
Just the opposite in fact. Making gooseberry jam is absurdly simple, and fast. They’re a high pectin fruit, which means you can make a thick, rich jam with a firm set without added pectin. All you need is sugar and fruit.
After you’ve harvested the fruit, the next step is to remove the tops and tails. A little bit of the stem often sticks to the top of each gooseberry, and there’s a “tail” left over from the flower after pollination. On most fruits, like blueberries for example, these flowers fall off after pollination. Gooseberries are different, and they just dry up into a short brown tail.
This, I’ll admit, is the most time-consuming part of the whole process.
Once the gooseberries are cleaned, weight the fruit. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, you can just measure. It takes about 3 cups of gooseberries to make 1 pound, so each cup weighs roughly 1/3 lb.
Place them into a pot with a bit of water and a splash of lemon or lime juice. The lemon juice is optional, and not necessary for canning or refrigerator jams, but it really brings out the flavor in the finished gooseberry jam. I personally like lime juice, and I think it works well with the green gooseberries.
Turn the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring often until the gooseberries disintegrate (about 5 minutes). While the gooseberries are cooking, weigh out your sugar. Gooseberries are a tart fruit, and while I’m usually a fan of low sugar jams, I’m not skimping here. Most recipes for gooseberry jam call for somewhere between 3/4 and 1 pound of sugar for every pound of fruit.
Again, if you don’t have a kitchen scale, no worries. One pound of granulated sugar is roughly 2 cups, so add 1 1/2 to 2 cups of sugar for every 3 cups of gooseberries.
Bring the pot back to a rapid boil, and cook for about 8 to 10 minutes until the mixture reaches gel stage. You can test this with a kitchen thermometer (220 degrees F) or you can place a plate in the freezer and test a small spoonful of jam on the plate. It should gel when it hits the cold plate if it’s done.
I, of course, just to be contrary, don’t use either of these methods. I dip a spoon into the pot and pour it back in. The gooseberry jam is finished when it begins to “sheet” off the spoon rather than drip. There are other signs too, if you’re an experienced jam maker you know that the bubbles change in texture as a jam reaches gel stage, and they become glossier and slower to pop. There’s an abrupt change that you can see if you really watch for it.
Once your gooseberry jam reaches gel stage, pour it into prepared jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. It’ll keep in the fridge for weeks, or you can process the jars in a water bath canner for 10 minutes and it’ll be shelf-stable for years.
Gooseberry Jam Variations
I’m loving my simple gooseberry jam, but I’ve also found a few options for you if you have a bumper crop on hand and want to get creative. This is what I get for researching gooseberry jam recipes before I had the fruit in hand…
- With Gin ~ Combining two Brittish favorites, the juniper in gin goes really well with gooseberries. I’ve had gooseberry infused gin and it was amazing, I can only imagine how it works in reverse.
- With Fresh Elderflower ~ Our elderflowers just popped into bloom this week, which coincides perfectly with gooseberry season. Elderflower jams are wonderful, and you can add those tiny blossoms to all manner of fruit jams…like this strawberry elderflower jam for example.
- With Rhubarb ~ It’s the tail end of our rhubarb season here in the north country, and things are just heating up. Earlier in the season, I made both a strawberry rhubarb jam and a straight rhubarb jam. I was looking forward to a rhubarb gooseberry jam with the last rhubarb harvest of the season, but that’ll have to wait until next year.
- 1 lb Gooseberries (about 3 cups)
- 3/4 to 1 lb sugar (1 1/2 to 2 cups)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1-2 Tbsp Lemon Juice (Optional)
- Clean the gooseberries by removing their tops and tails.
- Place the cleaned gooseberries into a pot with the water and lemon juice. Bring them to a boil over medium-high heat, and cook until they've disintegrated (about 5 minutes).
- Add the sugar, and boil the mixture hard until it reaches gel stage, about 8-10 minutes. Test the jam on a plate in the freezer, or check to see if it sheets off a spoon. Alternately, use a food thermometer and wait until it reaches 220 degrees F.
- Pour the gooseberry jam into prepared jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Apply 2 part canning lids and seal finger tight.
- Either store the jars in the refrigerator for immediate use, or process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes for a shelf stable home canned gooseberry jam that will last years at room temperature.
Note: Recipe yields 3 half-pint jars when a 1:1 sugar to fruit ratio is used. Reduced sugar gooseberry jam variations will yield slightly less and may take a bit longer to set.
This recipe can be doubled, but do not increase the batch size beyond 2 pounds of gooseberries as large batch sizes heat unevenly and may have trouble reaching gel stage.
More Summer Jam Recipes
Looking for more easy canning recipes? I have over 100 on the site, but here are a few more fun jams to get you started: