Why have I never eaten a gooseberry? These tart, green or red berries were once very popular in North America, as they are very hardy and easy to grow. However, early in the 1900s, gooseberries and currants were discovered to be an alternate host of the white pine blister rust disease that was threatening populations of pines. Because of this, many gooseberry (and currant) plantings were removed, and growing these plants is still illegal in some areas (special permits are required in Idaho, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont and Washington). Removing these plants hasn't been very successful in combating the disease, however, so gooseberries and currants are regaining some of their popularity.
Most gooseberries are quite tart in flavour and sport large thorns. Like tart, prickly raspberries, they are often used in preserves, although there are many new varieties that are sweet enough to eat right off the bush, and won't attack you for your troubles.
Pixwell and Welcome are two varieties with tart, red berries. Pixwell holds its berries away from its thorns, making picking easier, and Welcome has few thorns at all. Pembina Pride and Invicta have tart green berries. If you are looking for a gooseberry that can be eaten off the bush (when it's fully ripe!) try
Thoreson, which is very hardy and prolific, as well as having few thorns, or Hinnomaki Yellow and Hinnomaki Red, which are both fairly sweet and very hardy.
Gooseberry bushes need little pruning, but they can be thinned by cutting out canes that are more than four or five years old to improve their production. They are also easily propagated by cuttings or layering, and will generally bear a large crop in their fourth year.