Found at: Tesco
My mother’s approach to gardening is a two-stage affair: the first strange is to plant strange and unusual vegetables to see what will grow in the uncooperative Washington weather. The second stage is to spend the next decade desperately trying to rid the garden of a plant that has adapted too well. I have seen this woman attack a bay tree with an ax and gasoline only to discover new growth in the spring. This was the case with the gooseberry bush – a plant as hardy and aggressive as the migratory bird that is its namesake. The leaves are small and unattractive, the thorns are long and sturdy, and the berries are the tartest thing this side of a lemon. My brother and I both have long scars on our hands from attempting to reach the small, purple orbs and I believe that the subsequent, sour experiences prepared us very well for the harsh disappointments of life. Like the Kobayashi-Maru, the gooseberry bush taught us that you can do everything right and still fail to enjoy sweet victory.
And yet, in a family of optimistic masochists, the gooseberry bush soon became part of the cycle of our lives. In early spring, my mother would take the hoe to it in hopes that this year there would be no gooseberry harvest. As spring turned to summer, my brother and I would watch the thorny shrub grow and flower, waiting for the fruits turn purple in the vain hope that this year we would enjoy them. And in July, we would cut our hands to shreds for a small and unappetizing bowl of fruit that we would never manage to finish. So, it was in that nostalgic spirit that I bought this cup of gooseberry fool. Even as it spelled its intentions out to me, I had hope: maybe this time, maybe this year, it would be different.
And for once, my optimism was rewarded. In a creamy mousse that treads the line between yogurt and whipped cream, a few gooseberry fragments were scattered with a delicate restraint usually reserved for Carolina reapers. Outnumbered by the sugar and the crème, I could finally enjoy a gooseberry. For all those years, my brother and I had got it wrong – this berry is not a fruit, but a seasoning! And as I sat in the April sunshine and savored this sweeter version of my childhood, I thought of home. I thought of my mother, swearing and sweating and upsetting the neighborhood in her attempt to finally purge the garden of its thorniest occupant. Like every year, there was no way she could succeed, and I wondered if I should tell her to wait – to let the shrub grow wild and to keep some crème on hand. But somehow it didn’t seem right. It would interrupt a cycle of hope and struggle and disappointment and hope that resisted such a happy conclusion. Not all stories need an end, after all – and not all berries need to be sweet.