Close to Whitby and tucked away in the North York Moors national park is the small village of Egton Bridge. Each year on the first Tuesday in August the village holds the annual Gooseberry Show.
Competitive gooseberry events used to be very popular until the start of the First World War with around 170 shows held in the north of England. Egton Bridge remains one of only two events of this type still held in the country – the other event is held in Cheshire but unlike Egton it is a closed event and only accepts entries from members whereas Egton is an open event – It was established in 1800 and upholds a tradition of finding the heaviest berry. The gardeners enter their berries into four categories based on the colour of the berries – red, yellow, green and white and the variety of each type is noted. Names such as ‘Woodpecker‘, ‘Lord Derby‘, ‘Princess Royal‘ and ‘ Just Betty‘ are just some of the colourful names of the varieties.
The judging of the berries is a traditional affair. Each entry is carried carefully by the grower into the judging room. Berries are carried in using a variety of means to protect their precious crop. Delicately placed in egg trays lined with cotton wool and some even arrive carried in specially made wooden boxes. After a year of nurturing to bring the best out of the berries every precaution is taken to protect them.
The berries are then placed on the table where two judges examine and classify the berry. They are then handed across the table to two weigh men who have the responsibility of weighing the berries using old ‘Avery’ apothecary scales that were bought by the society in 1937. These scales are accurate enough to measure the weight of a feather! The weights are measured using the Avoirdupois system of measuring using ‘Drams‘ and ‘Grains‘ which break down to 27.34 grains to one dram, sixteen Drams is equal to one ounce and sixteen ounces to the pound.
The winning berries within each category are basically the heaviest berries. The condition of the berry is not that important as long as it doesn’t suffer from any splits in the skin or heavy bruising. Each category has a winner and there is an overall ‘Champion Berry’ which this year was a berry grown by Graham Watson weighing in at 30 drams and 06 grains. All the berries are then taken through to the main hall and placed on plates with each category winner taking pride of place on a specially made spindle that raises the winner up over the rest of the berries.
So if you fancy your chances and happen to have a gooseberry bush growing wildly at the bottom of your garden then you could do worse than head along to the Egton show next year and take your chances and meet with the friendly bunch down at the show. If you want further information on the Egton Bridge Gooseberry Society then follow the link….. here
Here’s a few interesting facts about gooseberries that you might not know:
- Their Latin name is Ribes uva-crispa
- Bushes can fruit for up to 20 years
- The Gooseberry is crossed with the Blackcurrant to make a Justaberry
- If a husband and wife compete and enter the competition then they must grow them in separate pens
- An average portion contains about a quarter of the daily Vitamin C requirement
- The phrase ‘playing gooseberry’ comes from the days when the fruit was a euphemism for the devil.
- One ancient belief tells of how fairies used to take shelter in the prickly bushes. This is how they are also known as ‘Fayberries’
- The berries can cope with temperatures as low as -35C / -31F
..so now you know.
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