Sunday, 24 July 2016


A Chairman berry holds on
Kelvin Archer with the world's heaviest gooseberry
   A battle-of-the-bulge is being fought about these parts as rival gooseberry growers defend their crops against a massed invasion of sun, heat and rain threatening the growing fruit. The sudden burst of sunshine gave a bumper harvest a ripening spurt  some weeks too early for the annual gooseberry shows starting this week-end and continuing into next month in a string of villages.  But  growers fear there will be no new records to be set this year unless they can stem the attack from the elements and the added pest of swarms of wasps poised to do their worst among the bushes.  Growers here in Goostrey, where one of the biggest shows is being held this Saturday (July 30) at the Crown Inn, reported a major attack of mildew in June. Now having saved their berries from the ravages of the  disease many of the most promising juicy heavyweights are bursting without warning as a result of the mix of sunshine and showers over the past weeks. Terry Price, veteran champion grower and president of Goostrey Gooseberry Society, says he does not believe there will be many berries left that could tip the scales at over 30 pennyweights unless growers are very lucky.  "Berries are bursting like hell," he said. "What I have seen so far suggests to me if you have a premier berry of between 27 and 29 pennyweights it could be a show winner."   Gooseberry growers by nature, however, are a canny breed and really never like to divulge to rivals how their berries are progressing,
and only on show day when their wax-sealed boxes are opened for the weigh-in is the truth revealed. The shows may be a quaint village ritual from the past but  to enthusiasts it is serious business with big prize-money and silver trophies as the spoils to be won.  Russell Burns, patron of the Yellow Broom restaurant, Twemlow,and a Goostrey show sponsor, is reportedly nurturing a "real whopper" of a berry on his bushes but it will be touch and go if it survives for his Swettenham show a week on Saturday.  "It is a really nice berry and I reckon if  he is lucky and it doesn't burst it could win the Mid-Cheshire Association trophy for the heaviest this year," said Terry.
  The competition among growers to produce the heaviest gooseberry began in the 18th century and the oldest existing show is at
Egton Bridge in Yorkshire founded in 1800. They were once held all over the industrial north of England but, apart from the Egton 
Triplets waiting to be picked
show, only eight survive, all in Cheshire, at Goostrey, Holmes Chapel, Allostock, the Crown of Peover, Over Peover (The Dog), Lower Withington, Marton and Swettenham Club.  The Blackden Trust based at the home of author Alan Garner and his wife, Griselda, near Jodrell Bank, maintains the official gooseberry archive of the many-named varieties of trees.  Local grower Kelvin Archer, a gardener at Rode Hall, is the present holder of the title for the heaviest gooseberry. His Millenium-named berry tipped the scales in 2013 at 41 pennyweights 11 grains to earn him a place in the Guinness Book of Records.
  The Goostrey show at the Crown, like all others,  is open to the public when the sealed boxes are opened at 1 pm for weighing and the
open show for juniors under 16.

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