Monday, October 1, 2012

FAQ: Cape gooseberry

Backlit ripe Physalis peruviana, cape gooseberry

What's that plant? and other frequently asked questions

Tucked behind my litchi tomato plant is a less prickly member of the nightshade family. Unlike its thorn-covered cousin, the Cape gooseberry is a friendly, slightly fuzzy plant, with sweet fruits hidden inside papery husks. They look something like tomatillos, but taste like a fruit flown in from somewhere tropical. Fortunately, they seem to grow just fine around here.

Green cape gooseberry husk

What's that plant?

Physalis peruviana, also known as (deep breath, now): Cape gooseberry (South Africa), Inca berry, Aztec berry, Golden berry, Giant ground cherry, Peruvian groundcherry, Peruvian cherry (U.S.), Pok pok (Madagascar), Poha (Hawaii), Ras bhari (India), Aguaymanto (Peru), Uvilla (Ecuador), Uchuva (Colombia) and (rarely) Physalis. Thank you, Wikipedia.

What kind of plant is it?

No, it's not a kind of gooseberry. Totally unrelated. Like the litchi tomato, the cape gooseberry is a nightshade that's been given a misleading name. Seems to happen a lot.

How do you eat it? What does it taste like?

You have to wait until the husks dry out and the fruits turn bright orange. Trust me on this: I got impatient and tried one too early, and they're just not good. The fruit itself sweet, a little tropical. I've only eaten them raw, though I imagine you could make them into jam, salsa, chutney, substitute it for pineapple, for strawberries, for tomatoes.... I've never had enough to do anything but eat them straight from the husk, but if you find yourself with an excess and want to drop them off at my place, I'll try some recipes and report back.

Where is it from? 

The plant is originally from South America. I got this one as a seedling from the local veg mob crop swap (now finished for the season, but we'll pick back up in spring).

Growing note: 

My plant was three feet tall before I read that they are not self-pollinating. You want fruit, you need at least two plants. Sadly, I only had the one plant. I kept watering it, just in case, and it has managed to produce fruit. This means that either a) someone in the neighborhood has another cape gooseberry plant and we've got some very active bees, or b) the internet was wrong.