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!