THE EVOLUTION OP CULTIVATED GOOSEBERRIES
The gooseberry of history is well grown only in the Old World. Early settlers in America from England and Holland tried its culture here but the hot dry American summers parched and withered both fruit and foliage. Moreover, it was subject to a native mildew which, before preventive and remedial sprays were introduced, made short work of European gooseberries in America. A few of the several hundred varieties grown in Europe vicariously grow in favored gardens in northeastern United States and adjacent parts of Canada, but nowhere in the New World is the European gooseberry a commercial success.
A native American gooseberry has been domesticated, however, and a few of its pure-bred varieties and a much greater number of its hybrids have been cultivated in gardens -and commercial plantations on this side of the Atlantic. The native wild gooseberries, than which the cultivated sorts of the species are scarcely superior, must of course, have been used by early settlers in the country wherever the plants grew wild, and no doubt wild plants were occasionally grown by American pioneers in gardens, but true domestication of the species seems not to have been attempted until less than a hundred years ago. But before discussing this native gooseberry further, something must be said of the origin, history, and present status of the European gooseberry.
The European gooseberry might almost be said to be a British fruit, because more commonly cultivated, used, and more highly esteemed in Great Britain than in any other part of the world. Yet the Scandinavians, Danes, Dutch, and Germans grow many varieties and pay much attention to gooseberry culture. It can never be known in which of the northern European countries the gooseberry first became common as a garden plant. Very possibly, almost without doubt, wild plants were fostered if not actually cultivated in gardens in all of these northern countries in the early stages of agriculture and their domestication took place in all and at presumably about the same dates since agriculture progressed apace in all. For the purposes of this text, therefore, it suffices as well to trace briefly its history in England as to attempt a more complete historical account.
The reign of Queen Elizabeth, 1533-1603, was a golden age in English gardening as well as in science, art, and literature. Explorers from the new world brought many new and useful plants; persecuted Protestants from the continent seeking refuge in England introduced new methods of culture and a love of gardens; and books about plants, herbals, botanies, Bacon's famous essay, and several noteworthy treatises on agriculture, all mark this as a period of great activity in the arts of plant growing. The gooseberry first appeared in Elizabethan gardens, at least as a common plant, according to the old garden books.
Turner, 1548, seems to be the first of the English garden writers to mention the gooseberry, thereby starting a misunderstanding that has caused much discussion down to our own day. He says: " It groweth only that I have sene in England, in gardines, but I have sene it in Germany abrode in the fields among other bushes." Is the gooseberry indigenous to England or was it brought to English gardens from the continent? Probably Turner was not a scientific reporter for the weight of authority is distinctly on the side of its being a native of England as well as of the continent.
Thomas Tusser, 1573, the poet, farmer, and vagabond, whom every pomological historian must quote, gives a list of et fruits to be transplanted in January in which he includes " Goose beries," and in his Five Hundred Pointes of Good Husbandrie under September's husbandries mentions the gooseberry in one of his verses.
" The Barbery, Respis, and Gooseberry too Looke now to be planted as other things doo. The Gooseberry, Respis, and Roses, al three With strawberries under them trimly agree."John Parkinson,1 the best horticultural authority for the period during which he maintained his famous garden in London and wrote his great herbal, apothecary to James I and botanist to Charles I, furnishes the first full account of gooseberries in his Paradisi in Sole, 1629. Let us see what the gooseberry was, and what its uses in English gardens 300 years ago.
" GOOSEBERRIES OR FEABERRIES
"Wee have divers sorts of Gooseberries, besides the common kinde, which is of three sorts, small, great, and long. For wee have three red Gooseberries, a blew and a greene.
"The common Gooseberrie, or Feaberrie bush, as it is called in divers Countries of England, hath oftentimes a great stemme, covered with a smooth darke coloured bark, without anie thorne thereon, but the elder branches have here and there some on them., and the younger are whitish, armed with verie sharpe and cruell crooked thorns, which no mans hand can well avoide that doth handle them, whereon are set verie greene and small cornered leaves cut in, of the fashion almost of Smallage, or Hawthorne leaves, but broad at the stalke; the flowers come forth single, at everie joint of the leafe one or two, of a purplish greene colour, hollow and turning up the brims a little: the berries follow, bearing the flowers on the heads of them, which are of a pale greene at the first, and of a greenish yellow colour when they are ripe, striped in divers places, and cleare, almost transparent, in which the seede lyeth. In some these berries are small and round; in others much greater; a third is great, but longer than the other: all of them have a pleasant winie taste, acceptable to the stomacke of anie (but the long kinde hath both the thicker skin and the worser taste of the other) and none have been distempered by the eating of them, that ever I could hear of.
"The first of the red Gooseberries is better knowne I thinke then the rest, and by reason of the small bearing not much regarded; the stemme is somewhat bigge, and covered with a smooth darke coloured barke, the younger branches are whiter, and without anie thorne or pricke at all, so long, weake, small, and slender, that they lye upon the grounds, and will there roote againe: the leaves are like unto the former Gooseberries, but larger: the flowers and berries stand single, and not manie to bee found anie yeare upon them, but are somewhat long, and are as great as the ordi-narie Gooseberry, of a darke brownish red colour, almost blackish when they are ripe, and of a sweetish taste, but without any great delight.
"The second red Gooseberry riseth up with a more straight stemme, covered with a brownish barke; the young branches are straight likewise, and grow not so thicke upon it as the former red kinde, and without any thorne also upon them: the leaves are like unto the former red, but smaller; the berries stand singly at the leaves as Gooseberries doe, and are of a fine red colour when they are ripe, but change with standing to be of a darker red colour, of the bignesse of the small ordinary Gooseberry, of a pretty tart taste, and somewhat sweete withall.
" The third red Gooseberry which is the greatest, and knowne but unto few, is so like unto the common great Gooseberry, that it is hardly distinguished: the fruit or berries grow as plentifully on the branches as the ordinary, and are as great et round as the great ordinary kinde, but reddish, and some of them paler, with red stripes.
"The blew Gooseberry risethup to bee a bush like unto the red Curran, and of the same bignesse and height, with broader and redder leaves at the first shooting out, then the second red Gooseberry: the berries are more sparingly set on the branches, then on the small red, and much about the same bignesse, or rather lesser, of the colour of a Damson, with an overshadowing of a blewish colour upon them, as the Damson hath, before it be handled or wiped away.
" The greene prickly Gooseberry is very like unto the ordinary Gooseberry in stemme and branches, but that they are not stored with so many sharpe prickles; but the young shootes are more plentifull in small prickles about, and the greene leafe is a little smaller: the flowers are alike, and so are the berries, being of a middle size, and not very great, greene when they are thorough ripe as well as before, but mellower, and having a few small short prickles, like small short haires upon them, which are harmlesse, and without danger to anie the most dainty and tender palate that is, and of a very good pleasant taste. The seede hereof hath produced bushes bearing berries, having few or no prickles upon them.
"the use of gooseberries
"The berries of the ordinary Gooseberries, while they are small, greene, and hard, are much used to bee boyled or scalded to make sawce, both for fish and flesh of divers sorts, for the sicke sometimes as well as the sound, as also before they bee neere ripe, to bake into tarts, or otherwise, after manie fashions, as the cunning of the Cooke, or the pleasure of his commanders will appoint. They are a fit dish for women with childe to stay their longings, and to procure an appetite unto meate.
*' The other sorts are not used in Cookery that I know, but serve to bee eaten at pleasure; but in regard they are not so tart before maturity as the former, they are not put to those uses they be."
We have in the gooseberry an unusually good opportunity to trace the evolution of a fruit brought under the hand of man from the wild. To see satisfactorily how the gooseberry has been improved we must quote at considerable length from several pomological writers from Parkinson to the present time. The next Englishman to write at length of gooseberries was John Rea,2 gardener and author, who published his Flora, Ceres et Pomona in 1665. Under the chapter heading Grossularia, Rea says:
11 Goosberries are of divers sorts and colours, as red, blue, yellow, white, and green; some of them round, others long; some smooth, and others prickly.
"Of red Goosberries there are three sorts, one small and round, seldom bearing; another bigger and a little flat, but no very good bearer; the third is called the Damson Goosberry, this is a good bearer, the Berries large, round, and red, and (when full ripe) with a blue tincture over them like a Damson.
" The blue Goosberry hath the Berries thinly set on the branches, which are small, a little long, and of a dark red colour, tinctured over with blue,
" Yellow Goosberries are of several sorts, one large, round, and smooth; others lesser; some long and prickly, of which there are two sorts chiefly esteemed; the first round, smooth, large and good, of a bright yellow colour, and called the Amber Goosberry; the other is large, long, and prickly, of a deep yellow colour and good taste, and is called the great Hedge-hog Goosberry.
" The white Holland Goosberry is the fairest, biggest, and best bearer of all others; the Berries are large, round, smooth, white, transparent, and well-tasted.
" The green Goosberry is of two sorts, one bigger and longer than the other, both very green and good, but the bigger is most esteemed."
Skipping a hundred years and a little more, thereby passing over a number of excellently written English agriculture books which have more or less to say about gooseberries, let us take as the next author who describes gooseberries, Mawe. In his Dictionary of Gardening and Botany, 1778, Mawe3 describes 24 gooseberries as follows:
" Varieties of the different species. Many varieties of Gooseberries have been raised from seeds; some having round berries, others oval; some hairy and some smooth, and of different colours, as Red Green Yellow
White, etc. consisting of the following varieties of each sort.
"Red Kinds. Hairy Red Gooseberry Smooth Red Gooseberry Deep Red Gooseberry Damson, or Dark-red Blueish Gooseberry Red Raspberry Gooseberry Early Black-red Gooseberry.
" Green Kinds. Hairy Green Gooseberry Smooth Green Gooseberry
Green Gascoigne Gooseberry Green Raspberry Gooseberry.
"Yellow Kinds. Great oval Yellow Gooseberry Great Amber Gooseberry Hairy Amber Gooseberry Early Amber Gooseberry.
" White Kinds. Large White Crystal Gooseberry -Common White Gooseberry White-veined Gooseberry."Other Varieties of different Sorts. Champaigne Gooseberry Rumbullion Gooseberry Large Ironmonger Gooseberry Smooth Ironmonger Gooseberry Hairy Globe Gooseberry Large Tawney, or Great Mogul Gooseberry."
Mawe's descriptions are very brief and some of his " kinds "as he calls them are group rather than varietal names. They furnish the information we want as regards the fruits, however, as we shall find in the summing up to determine when certain characters of gooseberry fruits first appeared. The improvement of the gooseberry in England from this time on goes forward in leaps and bounds. The Catalog of Fruits of the Horticultural Society of London for 1825 lists 185 varieties as growing in the garden of the society, while Lindley in his Guide to the Orchard and Kitchen Garden gives a list of 722 varieties.
There need be no further concern about the number of English gooseberries the number now probably runs into four figures but it should be of interest and profit to know what the characters of the modern gooseberry are. Perhaps we can get this information best by using the fifth and last edition of Hogg's admirable Fruit Manual, 1884, in which the following characters are set forth:
Color; red, yellow, green, white. Shapes; round or roundish, oblong, oval, obovate. Skin; smooth, downy, rough or hairy, with or without bloom. Fruits; two-or three-veined. Size; large, small, medium. Season; early, late, medium. Flavors; sweet or sour.
A careful reading of Parkinson and Rea, with some allowance for changes in terms and styles of description, shows almost certainly that gooseberries grown three centuries ago possessed all of the characters that they now have or had when Hogg wrote in 1884, excepting, possibly, the great size of the berries of modern varieties. It seems almost certain that a study of the history and botany of the gooseberry would show that all of the types now in gardens existed in nature and were brought into gardens and thus described as our early pomologists found them.
The breeders of gooseberries, then, have been able to add no new characters to this fruit excepting size and the succulency that follows. The changes in color, season, flavor, shape, and degrees of smoothness and hairiness have all come from hybridizing and crossing. This digression is made because the gooseberry illustrates particularly well what seems to be true of all our frtiits, namely, that cultivation and the protective influence of man plays small part or no part in the improvement of fruits except in increased quantity and larger size of the product. Amelioration comes rather through intercrossing of species. Different fruits respond very differently as to increase in size. The currant, sour cherry, Damson plums, and crabapples have not been greatly enlarged through cultural care given by man. The apple, pear, peach, domestica plums, grapes, bramble fruits, strawberries, and gooseberries have increased in size enormously under cultivation. Let us take the fruit in hand, the gooseberry, as an example.
Darwin, Animals and Plants under Domestication 1:378. 1893, made a study of the increase in the size of gooseberries. He says:
" Manchester is the metropolis of the fanciers, and prizes from five shillings to five or ten pounds are yearly given for the heaviest fruit. The ' Gooseberry Grower's Register ' is published annually; the earliest known copy is dated 1786, but it is certain that meetings for the adjudication of prizes were held some years previously.4 The ' Register ' for 1845 gives an account of 171 Gooseberry Shows, held in different places during that year; and this fact shows on how large scale the culture has been carried on. The fruit of the wild gooseberry is said5 to weigh about a quarter of an ounce or 5 dwts, that is, 120 grains; about the year 1786 gooseberries were exhibited weighing 10 dwts., so that the weight was then doubled; in 1817 26 dwts. 17 grs. was attained; there was no advance till 1825, when 31 dwts. 16 grs. was reached; in 1830 'Teazer' weighed 32 dwts. 13 grs.; in 1841 'Wonderful ' weighed 32 dwts. 16 grs.; in 1844 'London' weighed 35 dwts. 12 grs., and in the following year 36 dwts. 16 grs.; and in 1852, in Staffordshire, the fruit of the same variety reached the astonishing weight of 37 dwts. 7 grs.,6 or 896 grs.; that is, between seven or eight times the weight of the wild fruit. I find that a small apple, 6J inches in circumference, has exactly this same weight. The 'London' gooseberry (which in 1852 had altogether gained 333 prizes) has, up to the present year of 1875, never reached a greater weight than that attained in 1852. Perhaps the fruit of the gooseberry has now reached the greatest possible weight, unless in the course of time some new and distinct variety shall arise.
"This gradual, and on the whole steady increase of weight from the latter part of the last century to the year 1852, is probably in large part due to improved methods of cultivation, for extreme care is now taken; the branches and roots are trained, composts are made, the soil is mulched, and only a few berries are left on each bush;7 but the increase no doubt is in main part due to the continued selection of seedlings which have been found to be more and more capable of yielding such extraordinary fruit. Assuredly the 'Highwayman' in 1817 could not have produced fruit like that of the ' Roaring Lion ' in 1825; nor could the ' Roaring Lion,' though it was grown by many persons in many places, gain the supreme triumph achieved in 1852 by the 'London' Gooseberry."
The gooseberry is not a popular fruit in America. The climate is not favorable to the delectable European varieties and fungi take so great toll that where climate may favor fungi forbid. Moreover, the abundance of bramble fruits, strawberries, and early tree fruits in the season for gooseberries lessens the need of an additional fruit for the diet of the season. Nurserymen, also, with curious persistence, seem favorable only to the small-fruited and inferior Houghton and Downing, wretched substitutes for the large-fruited varieties which it has been demonstrated over and over again might as easily be grown.
Yet Nature has been lavish in supplying the continent with wild gooseberries. Some one of the several species is to be found in almost every part of this continent where agriculture prospers. But it is only within recent years that these have been brought to the attention of experimenters. The first gooseberry to be derived from a native species was the Houghton, first recorded in 1847, although it may have been introduced a few years earlier. It is certain that American varieties were grown long before this, however, for in 1839 John J. Thomas,8 then a youth, afterwards to become a leading authority in pomology, wrote:
" The gooseberry is cultivated with greater care and success in England than elsewhere; and Lindley enumerates 722 varieties, some of which have furnished specimens of single fruit* weighing an ounce and a half. But nearly all the English varieties, and especially those of large size, are wholly unadapted to culture in this country on account of mildew; and neither culture, pruning, nor any other remedy has been found that can be relied on as a remedy. There are some smaller native varieties, cultivated in gardens in this country, which are entirely free from it, and these alone are to be recommended here. Sufficient information however as to their names, has not been obtained for a list to be given. Some of the smaller of the English varieties, when tested in this climate, may be found worthy of cultivation."
Yet native gooseberries received scant attention in gardens before 1850.
At no time in the history of the country was pomology a matter of wider and more common concern to people on the land and in cities than this. But the pomological books, magazines, societies, exhibitions, and the efforts of individuals a hundred years ago and several decades after were directed toward the introduction of foreign fruits rather than the domestication of native fruits and the breeding of American varieties. The progress America has made in domesticating native fruits and the adaptation of varieties of European fruits to American environments, remarkable achievements in the history of agriculture, came after 1850.
In the first edition of his American Fruit Culturist, 1846, Thomas does not mention the Houghton or any other American variety of the gooseberry. Not until the fourth edition, 1850, does it find a place in his book, and Downing in Fruits and Fruit Trees does not mention it until the edition of 1860. Yet, as its history, given in the discussion of the variety in Chapter XIII shows, it must have been widely grown at this time.
In common with other European fruits, European gooseberries were now recognized as failures on this side of the Atlantic, and far-sighted pomologists were recommending the domestication and breeding of fruits and varieties adapted to American conditions. In 1847, Hovey,9 a veteran pomological writer, had this to say of gooseberries in his admirable Magazine of Horticulture:
"Houghton's Seedling Gooseberry. The exhibition of some very fine specimens of this variety, at a late meeting of the Horticultural Society, reminds us that we have neglected to notice it before. The great difficulty attending the growth of the large and fine sorts of English gooseberries is, that, in most localities, the berries are rendered worthless by the attacks of mildew; and the consequent disappointment has induced many to give up their cultivation altogether. Mr. Houghton's gooseberry is a seedling from our native kind, produced some time ago and is considerably cultivated in Lynn, where Mr. Houghton resides. It is of only moderate size, but possesses a fine flavor, is a most extraordinary bearer and in all seasons is remarkably free from mildew. The specimens which we have seen, induce us to recommend it for general cultivation, especially in situations where the large English sorts cannot be grown. We have no doubt, that with proper attention in the selection of seeds from the largest berries, other and improved sorts may be raised from this, and eventually a progeny of large fruited kinds, equal to the English, but possessing all the adaptation to our variable climate of the parent plant. We trust our hints may be acted upon by amateurs who have the leisure to do so."
Again, in 1850, Hovey10 urges the improvement of the native gooseberry as follows:
"The attention of our cultivators is, we are glad to know, now being more directed to this fruit than heretofore, and efforts are making to produce seedlings of our wild gooseberry, which is not attacked with the mildew, of increased size and quality. The first advance has already been achieved in that prolific variety, Houghton's Seedling, and with this for a parent, we see no reason why we may not in a few years possess native kinds, equalling the foreign ones in size and excellence, and, at the same time, possessing all the hardy and easily cultivated properties of the variety we have just named. We have already quite a number of seedlings, and shall look forward to their fruiting with much interest."
These are but two of a considerable number of expressions in the horticultural press of the times calling attention to the desirability of raising seedling gooseberries from native species if the country were to have varieties worth growing. The work of domesticating the American gooseberry seems to have been taken up with considerable interest in several northern states where fruit growing flourished, and a number of new seedlings were shown as recorded in accounts of the fruit exhibitions of the times. Yet little came of gooseberry breeding for a reason easy to understand as we review the copious pomological literature of the last half of the last century. Raspberries, blackberries, dewberries, strawberries, grapes, and native plums gave quicker and more abundant returns to breeders of fruits than the gooseberry and so claimed the attention of pomologists. Among many treasures discovered in our domestic flora for development, the gooseberry seemed to the workers of the times of little importance.
Of the several seedlings
immediately following Houghton, which we have set as the first landmark
in the domestication of the American gooseberry, Downing is the only
one noteworthy. It originated with Charles Downing about 1855, as a
seedling of Houghton and immediately became popular. For seventy-five
years it has been more commonly grown than any other variety of this
fruit in the United States, although it ought long ago to have been
discarded for any one of several better kinds which the country now
offers. The following is the first discussion and description of the
Downing, valuable also as showing the status of gooseberries at the
time the article was written, and of further interest as coming from
the pen of the noted European pomologist, Louis Berckmans who had some
years before come to America to live. Mr. Berckmans11 says:
"Of all the foreign or native Gooseberries which we have had opportunities to taste, for some years past, from Canada to Delaware, no variety, in our opinion, can compare with Mr. Charles Downing's Seedling, obtained from the Houghton's seed some three years ago, establishing once more the fact once so startling to the pomological world so much disputed and ridiculed but, in our opinion, so perfectly logical, that g the artificial products of nature improve by successive generations of seedlings/
"The berries before us (which kept ripe for more than ten hot days without any sign of decay) are about double the size of the parent (Houghton's); pale, or light green, without any blush, and smooth. The skin is very thin, and the fruit as delicate and tender as any European Gooseberry, in its native soil. The flavor and aroma are perfect; sweet, with plenty of vinous subacid. In enjoying a goodly supply of these berries, we, for the first time for six years, could not regret the relative and very marked inferiority of the best English varieties in our very different climate.
" We experienced the same satisfaction as we did in the tasting the Delaware and Rebecca Grapes, coming up so very nearly to the European standard as to be almost taken for good foreign varieties.
" Let us have our native varieties of all kinds of fruit. Already the pear, the strawberry, the raspberry, and chiefly the apple, have come in handsome competition with, or superseded, their European relative varieties. We never could see, after those successful experiments, what could prevent us from having just as fine gooseberries, grapes, etc, and better, too, than the transatlantic products. Gentlemen amateurs! do try all kinds of seedlings; the Phoenix is yet in its ' ashes.' Patience alone, and (in the impressive words of our honored President, Col. Wilder) ' eternal vigilance/ can only bring out the desired results.
"Thanks to Mr. Charles Downing for his constant efforts. The present seedling is one out of a lot of seedlings from the Houghton, but it is the only superior one in quality and size, as it is one of the finest erect bushes among this family; a vigorous and sturdy grower.
"Like its parent, it seems rather more exempt from mould; we have indeed seen no disposition to moulding in any of these seedlings. We urged Mr. Downing to let it be propagated; but, as usual, his modesty is rather in the way of his love of progress and improvement/'
Houghton, and therefore Downing, its
seedling, are, as we have seen in the discussion of the botany of the
gooseberry, hybrids between the native and the European species of this
fruit. No pure-bred derivative of the several American wild
gooseberries has ever come into prominence and but one, Pale Red, can
now be found in gardens if, indeed, it is still to be found. Some ten
or twelve other varieties may possibly be found in one part of the
country or another in which the characters of the native species are most prominent, but English gooseberries, or hybrids which show
their characters more prominently than those of the natives, are more
and more taking the place of Houghton and Downing by the few who give
attention to this fruit. Fungicides keep the mildew in check and
hybrids are being bred more resistant to it.
Meanwhile it cannot be said that the gooseberry is gaining in popularity in America. English varieties grown in America and the sorts which have originated here are far short of the European standards for this fruit, and with a greater wealth of home-grown and exotic fruits than any other part of the world, the gooseberry languishes in popular favor. American customs in using the fruit retard rather than enhance its popularity; the gooseberry is usually used here only in the green state and as a sauce, whereas the Europeans find ripe gooseberries as delectable as any other fruit for dessert. With these statements as to why gooseberries are not largely planted in the United States, let us see from the Census of 1920 what the country has in its gooseberry plantations.
Census figures show the gooseberry to be the least important of the five fruits discussed in The Small Fruits of New York. In the census of 1920 it is not sufficiently important to be given a separate classification, but is lumped under the heading of "Other berries" with the statement that these are chiefly gooseberries. Scattered plants of "other berries" brought into acreage figures in 1919 amount for the whole country only to 5,450 acres, 365 acres less than in 1909, or a loss of 6.7 per cent in the ten years.
What is the future of the gooseberry in America? The immediate future is not bright. The causes that have kept it from becoming a prominent fruit still exist. These are, to recapitulate, mildew, poor varieties, the use of green fruits to the neglect of ripe ones, and the disposition of nurserymen to push the sale of the Houghton and Downing to the exclusion of sorts with larger, handsomer, and better-flavored fruits. The last, it is certain, is the chief cause of the unpopularity, steadily increasing, of the gooseberry in this country. The gooseberry, more than any other berry, in America at least, is a home rather than a market fruit. Plants are supplied growers by nursery agents. The gooseberry will not become popular until, as in large parts of Europe, every garden is supplied with choicely good varieties instead of the two or three varieties now to be had with their thorny bushes and small, hard, sour, and insipid fruits.[References used in this section: 1. Parkinson, John Par. Ter. 560. 1629.