When ripe the calyx of this fruit becomes transparent, it is a delicate lattice containing a golden orb. No wonder the French call them amour en cage, or ‘love in a cage’. The fruit’s natural packaging is one of its most distinctive features. The papery over-sized calyx surrounds the fruit completely, resembling a tiny Chinese lantern.
Some its other names are: Golden berry, Aztec berry, Inca berry, Giant ground cherry, African ground cherry, Peruvian cherry. These little berries are among the cutest and tastiest of them all. Having been cultivated in the Cape of Good Hope for about 100 years, they are known as the Cape Gooseberry in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and South Africa.
Cape gooseberries are native to South America, Columbia being the largest producer (and still only a measly 11,000 tonnes per annum). They are generally known as hardy and easy to grow plants. The ripe berry is the size and shape of a cherry tomato, jam packed full of tiny seeds. In flavour they are uniquely tart, grape-like and even have caramel notes.
Sadly in North America, you may see an entire small Cape gooseberry plant for sale near Halloween. The little ‘lanterns’ will have been spray painted bright orange.
They are delicious raw, but if you ever try real home-made Cape gooseberry jam, it’s a flavour you will never forget. If you’re from New Zealand, it may be a jam your Grandmother made; after you painstakingly hulled hundreds of the little lantern covered berries. Partly due to the intensive labour required to harvest them, Cape gooseberries will never be a mainstream fruit.
If you happen to see them, try out these little jewels of a fruit when you get the chance.