Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Chinese Fruits and Cape Gooseberries

I was reading Susan's Blog Schnitzel and The Trout about their travels through Alsace and the Auvergne and spotted a superb dessert that they had encountered - Ile Flottante (Floating Isle). It contained orange slices, orange sorbet and it was topped with a chocolate cup filled with Grand Marnier. It was also decorated with little orange fruits in the paper thin shells and it reminded me that I have had them occasionally as a garnish with pigeon breasts in restaurants in the UK. They are called Cape Gooseberries (other names for them are Goldenberry, Peruvian Ground Cherry and Poha Berry).

Nick found them in dried form in Hong Kong where they are used in cooking and to make a fruit tea. I was also surprised when I started to read about them as I actually had a rogue plant in our kitchen garden one year! I had no idea what it was but the flowers were so pretty I kept it, however it provided no fruit and died in the winter.

It's Latin name is Physalis peruviana and it grows in Heilongjiang province,North Eastern China. The golden fruits are about the size of a marble and have lots of small yellow seeds inside. Its most notable feature is the single papery pod that covers each berry which makes them look like Chinese Lanterns.

Cape Gooseberries are a member of the plant family Solanaceae and are related to the tomatillo and also the tomato, aubergine, and potato. They have a sweet, tart flavour which is a cross between a ripe gooseberry, strawberry, green grape and pineapple. They have been used by the Chinese for centuries in concoctions for the treatment of a number of ailments, including sore throats, colds, coughing, high fevers, abscesses and eczema.

Having said all this they are not actually native to China at all. They come from high altitude tropical Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru. These plants grow all over the Andes and were fruit of the Incas. In the 18th century, the fruits were perfumed and worn for adornment by native women in Peru. It was being grown in England in 1774 and was cultivated by early settlers at the Cape of Good Hope before 1807 (which is where it gets its name from).

Cape Gooseberries are mainly used in desserts or salads here in the West but they can be included as ingredients in savoury meat dishes like curries. I haven't found a recipe that uses them in a curry yet but I think it is a really good idea – has anyone got any suggestions?

They are also used in liqueurs – although the nearest I could find to this in the UK was Whitley Neill's Gin which focuses on African botanicals ie the fruit of the African Baobab Tree and Cape Gooseberries!


Susan said...

SUe, you found such wonderful information!! Yes, cape gooseberries is exactly what this fruit is. And, you have opened a whole new door for me. All of a sudden, I had a childhood flashback. My grandmother used to make a jam with ground cherries. They looked similar. The German name for them was capsule tomaten, or capped tomatoes. They tasted very good all cooked and thicken with sugar for a jam. I have not had that in many years. Thanks.

lostpastremembered said...

I got some off the back of a truck at the farmer's market last year... they were gone before I got home... they really do remind me of tomatillos most of all.. with a touch of gooseberry thrown in...would be fun to play with them in that floating Isle. Thanks for the info about Rivesaltes Ambre... will see if I can find it here!!!!

tasteofbeirut said...

I just love the way they look unfortunately have never tasted them; can't wait to do so now!

Sue said...

Thanks! I think I am going to try making a jam with them as it sounds delicious - I'll let you know how I get on!

andrew raymond said...

just came acrosss your blog while looking for this fruit online. Yesterday, I found some growing by the side of the road in country Australia. I remember them growing in my backyard in Queensland. There was jam involved for sure. greeting for OZ!.

Sue said...

Thanks Andrew :-) gosh, fancy finding some growing by the side of the road! Much more exotic than our blackberries along the hedgerows in the lanes over here!

Unknown said...

Wonderful thank you for the information.
My husband says these are known as "pests" in Albania and grow wild everywhere in southern Albania

Conrad O`Sullivan said...

I grew these from seed about 3 years ago and now have six vigorous plants taking over my small suburban garden in Dublin, Ireland. They produced a little fruit throughout last winter but are now cropping well for the first time and appear to be self-seeding. We generally eat them immediately but I plan to collect enough to preserve or freeze in the next few days. The seed came from a mainstream seed merchant label (I forget which). Another plus is that the birds have not discovered them!