Gooseberry Pie: The Bite of Pennsylvania’s Rare Berry

Pennsylvania’s Gooseberry Pie.

Nothing says Keystone State like….Gooseberry!?

No, it is not what is fed to geese or does it have to do with the feeling your skin gets when a fright comes over you. And, a fool is a sort of fruit pudding with whipped cream – not a pie.

A pie is much better. Of course.

It is, in fact, a fruit once plentiful in early America, nearly killed off, and making a slow but steady return in the place it grows best – Pennsylvania.

The word “pie” is an open invitation to anyone with a lifetime of adventures in sugar, but when it’s filled with a fruit so rarely seen, let alone heard of for practically a century, duty to history compels a bite.  The sign for “Gooseberry Pie” was enough to strike awe in a few passersby at the Dupar’s Pie Stand at the old Farmer’s Market in Los Angeles, where the last mini-pie of it left was snapped up less than an hour after a precious few of them had been put out for sale.

Gooseberry, gooseberry, where did you go?!

Agriculture Department g'berry

An Agriculture Department gooseberry rendering.

It is no wonder that its lemon-sweet aftertaste was not enough to sustain the gooseberry’s popularity into the 20th century and beyond. As if the name of this grape-looking non-grape wasn’t bad enough, its most popular use was in a sort of whipped cream custard type pudding called a “fool,” brought to the U.S. by immigrants from England, where it grows in abundance, though the red berry version seems more popular than the green one used in this pie. Grown largely on the eastern seaboard, the gooseberry craze in America seems to have ranged from about 1760 to 1860.

Beloved by Buchanan and Lincoln alike

Pennsylvania Gooseberry Pie was beloved by native son and 15th President James Buchanan as well as the man he handed over a mess to, 16th President Abraham Lincoln.

Odd that the odd name of this currant relative was never exploited against its devotees by political partisans. The reason seems to be simply that the gooseberry was the truly bipartisan fruit. Federalist John Adams loved the fool (the pudding version), yet one recipe for it stands out in the kitchen books kept by anti-Federalist Jefferson’s daughter. Half a century later, the Pennsylvania Democrat James Buchanan had it growing with Muscatine grapes in his garden and harvested for tarts on his table, yet his immediate successor Illinois Republican Abraham Lincoln also loved it, having his served in the more mundane pie version.

How he came to taste it in Illinois is an interesting question since Gooseberry pie was, for so long a regional specialty of the Pennsylvania Dutch, certainly in the early 19th century.

The imminent near demise of the fruit, which grow on vines in a paper-like wrapping, came without warning in the summer of 1921 in Pennsylvania, then gooseberry ground zero. Unexpected tragedy struck in the dark growth upon the vines of that scurrilous agricultural infection known as “white pine blister rust.”  

gooseberry growing

Gooseberry growing.

By then, however, America had lost its taste for the gooseberry, a victim of the power of suggestion as flappers and sheiks in tin lizzies quipped that Jazz Age slang for a cussword, “Aahh…raspberries!”

And yet nearly a century later, as witnessed by those awe-struck piestand passersby, evidence mounts in organic orchards across the land that the silly little gooseberry is making a comeback, just in time to feed a nation hungry for fool.

 

Pennsylvania Dutch Gooseberry Pie

 

Gooseberry Pie (Rhonda Steed)


3 1/2 cups gooseberries

 1 teaspoon orange rind

 1/4 teaspoon salt

 1 1/2 cups sugar

 2 tablespoons minute tapioca

 2 tablespoons melted butter

 2 nine-inch pie crusts

Mix the berries (cleaned of stems), rind, sugar, salt, tapioca, and butter and let it settle for about fifteen minutes, before pouring into the pie crust and then covering and sealing its edges with the second crust, cutting slits on the top, with a light dusting of granular sugar to coat the top crust.


Categories: State Pies

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3 replies »

  1. I’ve never had gooseberry pie, but I do like gooseberry fool. I have three gooseberry bushes growing in my garden, so it’s making a comeback here.

    What’s this pie stand like? I need some new places to visit on my next trip down.

    Another great posting.

    • Very old-school pie stand with multitude of choices, including many of the great berries of the Northwest US region, coming in slices, large and mini pies, though apparently they even mail some by special order, across the seven seas! It’s part of the famous Dupar’s Diner, there since the 1940s, located in the Farmer’s Market, there since the 1930s, at Fairfax and Third. Same wood, steel structure, open-aired with green-white striped awnings, as pure as if it were the Iowa State Fair, except its in the heart of heathen Hollywood.

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