Perhaps the recipes that best capture the spirit of Mountain Memories are the jams and jellies and pickles. Both the vegetable and fruit chapters are prefaced with memories of sauerkraut barrels in the family cellar, the necessity of storing food through rough winters, and pioneer methods for food preservation. They rely on local fruits and vegetables picked at their best and most plentiful and stored up against lean months, and really seem to help paint a picture of “the old days”. Mrs. Noble’s recipe for Gooseberry Ketchup seems a perfect example of this old-school canning aesthetic. There are only a few weeks in early summer when gooseberries are any good; this recipe is a way to make the most of a short, plentiful harvest. (The original recipe calls for 10 lbs of fruit – I’ve scaled it back to make enough for a small jam jar’s worth).
Now if you’re hoping for an approximation of tomato ketchup you’re out of luck. “Ketchup” here is used in the traditional sense of “condiment” or “sauce”. The end result is more like a tart jam or chutney, more suitable for dressing turkey or pork roast than a burger and fries. (I had it this morning on an English muffin with butter). And we also need to be careful with what we’re calling a ‘gooseberry’, which can mean anything from a ground cherry to a kiwi fruit depending on who you ask. To Mrs. Noble’s Appalachian forebears ‘gooseberry’ would be a member of the currant family; these berries grow well in many different parts of the United States. The ‘cape gooseberry’ or ‘ground cherry’ is similar in appearance but wholly unrelated; nevertheless they will still work well in this recipe. Neither the traditional nor cape varieties are easy to find in a grocery store, even during the growing season, and nearly impossible to find frozen. I am able to source them, sometimes, from a local farmers market but they come and go as quick as the wild huckleberries. If you miss the gooseberry harvest or simply don’t have a reliable source, fresh currants, cranberries, or even tart, green tomatillos are an acceptable substitute.
The biography on the back cover suggests that Mrs. Noble was hard at work on other books when Mountain Memories was published, but I can’t find evidence of anything else she’s written. As of this writing she is still living, apparently having pursued other interests. Mountain Memories is no longer in print, but can be found used on occasion at Amazon or elsewhere.
- Chop gooseberries fine and mix with apple cider vinegar. If desired, use an immersion blender to save some work. Add the vinegar-gooseberry mixture to a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then simmer 15-20 minutes until the mixture resembles a thick pulp.
- Stir in sugar and spices and simmer, uncovered, 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thick and, um, ketchupy.
The same proportions of sugar will work for any of the recommended substitutions, including tomatillos.