- Author: Betty Homer
Published on: August 27, 2018
Recently, I played a practical joke on one of my friends and gifted him a basket of cape gooseberries (the same green plastic baskets that hold cherry tomatoes and strawberries that consumers see at farmer's markets and supermarkets). They looked suspiciously like yellow 'Sungold' tomatoes, but when he bit into them, the taste was not what he expected--tart, mildly sweet, and slightly fruity. Can you tell the difference from the photos below (hint: the center one is the 'Sungold' tomato)?
For the past 3-4 years, I have had a cape gooseberry plant (Physalis peruviana) growing in my garden without incident--a perennial plant that bears no disease and has attracted no pests from my observation thus far. You can grow this from seed (I once saw it at Baker Seed), or purchase it from a well-stocked nursery of unusual plants, such as the nursery located at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center where I purchased my plant. Every winter, I fret over this plant and others that are frost-tender, but even with our Solano County cold snaps, this plant has managed to survive with a little help in the form of row covers (any cover will do). Even when it has looked sad and scraggly in the winter, it comes roaring back in the spring and summer, yielding versatile fruit during the summer months that can be eaten out of hand (Cape gooseberry is a nightshade and its fruit may be poisonous if eaten before it is ripe), canned, or made into dessert. Like tomatillos, cape gooseberries grow inside husks which must be shucked prior to consumption (see picture below).
Cape gooseberries may be an acquired taste. But for a lazy gardener like myself, I appreciate any shrub that yields fruit with very little labor on my part.