To judge by the name, one might think that the Cape gooseberry was originally from the Cape of South Africa, but it is not.It is a South American native, a member of the potato family that is endemic to that continent, related to tomato, sweet pepper, aubergine and chilli pepper, and the less well-known tomatillo and huckleberry. The botanical name is Physalis pruinosa or Physalis peruviana var. edulis, it has had the name ‘Peruvian ground cherry' and ‘golden berry' is another common name. The Cape gooseberry, contained within a papery Chinese lantern, is distinctly tomato-like in shape and it is about the size of a cherry tomato. Once you know of its family link with the tomato, you will easily discern the tomato-like acidic tang of the fruit. It is, of course, a fruit, just like the tomato, although it is used mostly as a vegetable, much as the tomato is. It can even be sundried. It has arrived at a food in Europe and in Ireland in relatively recent times, and its use has been largely restricted to a role as garnish on desserts. It is a much more versatile food that that. It is relatively easy to grow successfully, although it has been very little grown in gardens.
Cooking cape gooseberries
Though relatively new, cape gooseberries come from a distinguished family of vegetables, all of which are actually fruits. It could in theory be used in any way that cherry tomatoes are used, fresh or cooked, in salads and stir-fries, even in ice-cream and jam, and very tasty dipped in chocolate. They generally used along with the established vegetables, offering a change of flavour. Cape gooseberry is an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A precursor, and a good source of vitamin B-complex with some fibre and calcium.
Growing Cape gooseberry
Site and soil: Cape gooseberry, like tomatoes, is not hardy, although some kinds are perhaps hardier than tomato plants. It is grown like tomatoes, either under glass or polythene or in a sunny spot in really good fertile soil.
Varieties: There are no named varieties, as such, it is usually just sold as Cape gooseberry or golden berry. There can be some variation between seed sources, some are tall, other more spreading.
Sowing: Sow the seeds in early to Mid-March, just like tomatoes for indoor or outdoor growing. Sow three seeds to a small pot and pinch out the weakest, leaving one.
Growing on: A greenhouse is not essential but will generally be used. The young plants can be potted as necessary into a larger pot and kept watered and occasionally given some liquid feed, but not grown too soft or lush either, again like tomatoes. If grown to cropping in a greenhouse, they should be planted ut as soon as they are about fifteen centimetres tall.
Transplanting: The young plants can be hardened off and planted out in late May or early June, or a couple of weeks earlier in a mild garden. Choose a sheltered spot.
Watering: Although the cape gooseberry is a resilient plant, tolerant of drought, it benefits from watering in a dry spell. It is a fast grower and can make a very big bushy plant.
Picking: The chinese lantern covers turn papery when the fruit is fully ripe but the fruits can be used before that happens. When they change colour to yellow-orange, they are ripe. Some people like them a little under-ripe, when the taste is more tart. The first fruits can be picked as soon as they are ready as others will continue to ripen and at the end of the season, the remainder can be picked and stored in their papery covers for a couple of months.