The cape gooseberry (Physalis peruviana) is a marble-sized fruit that is yellow to orange in color with a smooth, waxy skin. It resembles a little tomato with its juicy pulp and lots of tiny little seeds. It can grow well wherever tomatoes can be grown. Like its relative the tomatillo, the cape gooseberry has a calyx, or papery husk.
The plant is native to tropical highlands in Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia and though it can be found sold in markets in these countries, it has not traditionally been an important cash crop in South America. However, it has been disseminated and is widely known throughout the world. It was cultivated in England as early as 1774, South Africa in 1807, and Hawaii in 1825. It is only recently catching on in popularity in the U.S., where it is sold mostly in the form of preserves.
The cape gooseberry grows as a perennial in the tropics and as an annual in temperate regions. The bush grows to an average of two-three feet in height and a single plant can yield up to 300 fruits per growing season. It requires full sun, protection from high winds, and frost-free locations. It is a relatively hardy plant which tolerates poor soils. This means it can be grown in areas with degraded soils. According to California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc., growers can achieve high yields using little or no fertilizer. In fact, too much soil fertility can cause excessive vegetative growth to limit fruit production. Since it spreads easily, the cape gooseberry can make a good groundcover and help protect land from erosion. It does require regular watering during the growing season and well-drained soil; otherwise it is prone to root rot. Its paper husk, or calyx, helps to protect it from birds, insects, and some diseases, though it is not totally immune to these threats. If the husk is left on, it can last several months in a dry atmosphere.
This little fruit can be eaten fresh or dried, but can also be added to salads and incorporated into pies, pudding, chutneys, and ice creams. It is also used to make sauces and glazes which pair well with meat and seafood. Because it is high in pectin, it is ideal for making jams. In Colombia, where it is known as uchuva, it is stewed with honey and eaten as dessert (see below for recipe), made into cheesecake, or stuffed into poultry. In Europe it is dipped in chocolate or used to decorate pastries.
In folk medicine, the cape gooseberry is believed to have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. In Colombia, a leaf decoction is drunk for its diuretic and anti-asthmatic effects. In South Africa, heated leaves are applied to the body to relieve inflammation. The cape gooseberry is an excellent source of vitamins A, B, and C, as well as thiamine and niacin. Compared to other fruits, it is very high in protein and phosphorus, but low in calcium.
The cape gooseberry “has commercial promise for many regions.” In Kenya, where the jam is especially popular, cultivation has been the focus of commercial enterprises. However, the cape gooseberry “tends to be labor-intensive in commercial plantings”, which can limit the size of commercial enterprises due to high labor costs. It is not yet a major cash crop anywhere in the world, though there are established commercial crops in India, South Africa, New Zealand, Thailand, Turkey and Hawaii. At the very least, the cape gooseberry can give home cooks a tasty and healthy ingredient to liven up their meals.
In a saucepan, combine
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup honey
Bring to boil and then add-
1 pound cape gooseberries (husked)
Return to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.
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