Saturday, March 29, 2014

A cape gooseberry by any other name...

Last week was Local food Week in Wellington, and I had a great time as one of four bloggers/authors speaking at The Library Bar (I say it's my favourite bar, and it is - but it's really the only bar I happily go to on my own). The others were such a pleasure to see and hear: Sue Kerr (Five Course Garden), Laura Vincent (Hungry and Frozen) and Jared Gulian (Moon over Martinborough). 
         I told some local food stories of my own, including my pride in one of my very few genuine food-growing successes. As I've confessed before, unlike Harvey I'm just not a Real Gardener - everything in the garden seems to make me itch. But thanks to Ali, who gave me a plant, I have managed to produce quite a decent crop of cape gooseberries - or as we are being told to call them now, pichuberries. Here's the next lot coming on - they aren't ready to pick until they turn a very dry pale beige on the outside, and preferably fall off (only then you can lose them on the ground).

Renaming fruits and vegetables to win a bigger market for them is nothing new.  Tree tomatoes became tamarillos, Chinese gooseberries became kiwifruit. Ever since we've prided ourselves on the world instantly associating kiwifruit with New Zealand, but...maybe not. Here's what I found on a US foodie blog tonight:
In the 1960s, the Chinese gooseberry became the kiwifruit. The new name was taken on—after decades of trial and error—when it was discovered that Americans then associated the fruit with Australia, an exotic (but non-threatening) land, instead of China.
Yes, well. The latest fruit to be rebranded is the humble cape gooseberry (Physalis peruviana, closely related to the tomatillo and more distantly to tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants). I wrote about it in my book, remembering it from staying at my grandmother's in what was then the sleepy little country settlement of Greenhithe, on Auckland's North Shore:
At night we made charred smoky toast on a  toasting fork over the fire and spread it with the jam that Mum cooked up from teh golden cape gooseberries I collected on the vacant section next door, where they ran wild over the warm slab of concrete that had once supported a house.
I thought they got their name from the pretty fluted lantern-shaped cape that covered them, turning into a fine transparent lattice as it dried. In fact they're world travellers. The British carried them home from Peru, where they were known as aguaymanto or Inca berries, and took them on to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa; then they made their way down to Australia and New Zealand, where they acquired their new name.
          Now they've been transformed into pichuberries (after Macchu Picchu) thanks to a new company, Mojo Tree Farm. It was created in 2010 by a University of Arizona student, Michael Popescu,  as part of his master's thesis in entrepreneurship. The company's dietician,  Manuel Villacorta, has been effectively promoting them as the new superfruit (though sceptical people point out that other fruits such as blueberries have similar characteristics).  He claims they're "useful in fortifying the liver, supporting cardiovascular activity, strengthening lungs, and enhancing fertility and food absorption". Perhaps. In any case they look pretty, taste great, and will definitely be generally good for you, so what's not to like?
          Last week I collected a decent bowlful of them. But when I went looking for recipes there was very little under "pichuberry", whereas "cape gooseberry" came up with some interesting ideas. I liked this one best, though I haven't tried it yet -and the association with chocolate, from their homelands, is attractive:

Cape gooseberries still in their lanterns
Melted dark chocolate
Peel back the lanterns, folding them away from the berry into a star shape.
Carefully dip the golden berry into melted chocolate.
Place on grease proof paper to set. 
Use beside sweet desserts or cheese board. 

But I'll mostly just go on poaching them gently in a small amount of sugar syrup with some honey added, and eating them with icecream or good yoghurt, or on top of a slice of cake - they're very good with the hummingbird cake in my previous post.

1 comment:

Domestic Executive said...

Ann, loved this post. In planted some cape gooseberries this year and they have gone crazy although not yet produced any fruit to pick. I live in hope for a little more sun to give them a boost.