My earliest memories of cape gooseberry or rasbhari as they're called in India go back to moving ramshackle carts where these berry fruits were sold. As soon as the vendor would call aloud and announce his arrival, mother and I would hustle out of the house, carrying some loose change to pay for dozens of boxes of the golden berries.
Cape gooseberries are summer days bundled in translucent wings and wrapped in a hue of yellow. Tart, but not too much, beaded with seeds like a million miniscule pearls. Tiny cousins of grape tomatoes, I call them sometimes. They're the apple of my eye and the ruler of my heart all through the year and not just summer. We ate them plain but a big batch was also put aside for pickles. I used to pop a bunch into my mouth while they were still being washed and readied for use in achaar (pickle)!
There's a fruit stand in downtown Whitehorse where a lady sells fresh produce starting late spring and all through summer. Needless to say I'm a frequent visitor of her shop. Last year in autumn, the lady was an angel in disguise for she had surplus boxes on the day before she was closing the shop for winter. What do you think I did? Bought everything of course! And, what did I do with them other than stuffing my mouth (I bet you can't stop at one)? I used them in a variety of things. Salads, custards, cakes and a special flaugnarde.
For those of you who haven't tried it before, it's a French dessert where fruits are layered in a buttered dish, a flan-like batter is poured on top and baked until the fruits are smudgy and oozy while the batter cooks to become something like a 'puddingy' pancake. Easy but I find it on the too-sweet side for my taste. I know that the husband adores all such desserts, be it a calfoutis, a meringue or a pavlova, and seeing him relish this flaugnarde with the eagerness of a child was the highlight of my baking expedition.
My favourite however is a rasbhari chutney. Chutneys, jams or pickles are my most preferred way of using berries, fruits or vegetables so they last long after their season is gone. These beautiful fruits can grow in varied conditions and withstand long shipping and storage. Knock knock! I got a huge batch at the close of summer from the fruit stand and relished the chutney all through autumn! I'm a tad bit amazed (in a disappointed way) they aren't widely available. But, if you find them, please buy!
Physalis Peruviana—botanical name of this marble sized fruit — is native to tropical highlands in Peru (does Peruviana in it's botanical name ring a bell?), Ecuador and Columbia. Although found and sold in these countries, apparently it hasn't been traditionally a cash crop in South America. Cultivated in England as early as 1774, South Africa (Cape of Good Hope, it's namesake) in 1807 and Hawaii in 1825, this orangish yellow coloured sphere of bomb flavour has disseminated throughout the world. It probably made its way to India through Rio de Janeiro, though exact dates are unknown.
The last of my gooseberry baskets from the fruit stand were turned into this oh-so-delicious chutney! Call it an instant pickle if you will. Add panch phoran—a combination of equal parts of cumin, mustard, fenugreek, nigella and fennel seeds—and red chili to oil, then add the fruits. Let it simmer, add a little jaggery and salt. Keep simmering at low to medium heat till you're happy with the consistency. Turn off the heat and add some vinegar. Pour into jar, seal and keep in cool place or refrigerate. Done!
Slather on a toast, chuck it with khichdi, scoop with paratha or dip a cracker in! Make a hearty batch; mine lasted hardly a week. You got it! I'm a crazy chutney lover, and the husband relishes every bit of my signature chutneys.
There is only one tip for this chutney—don't overdo it! I let the cape gooseberries simmer only until they have shriveled. I mash a few with the spatula and keep many intact. This ensures a good consistency for the chutney.
You may choose to not cook the cape gooseberries at all. Just make the jaggery and spice concoction along with salt. Let it simmer till you get a flowy consistency and then pour it on the raw fruits along with vinegar. Seal in a jar and store! You may want to keep them in the sun for 3-4 days before eating in this case.
2 cups of cape gooseberry, husk removed and washed
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp panch phoron - equal parts of cumin, mustard, fenugreek, nigella and fennel seeds
2-3 dry red chili or 1 tsp red chili powder
2-3 tsp jaggery or jaggery powder (depending on how sweet you want the chutney to be/substitute with sugar)
1 tsp salt or to taste
1 tsp vinegar
In a pan, heat oil on medium heat and add panch phoron. Once they crackle, add chili and stir.
Immediately add the cape gooseberries and stir again. Reduce the heat and let the fruits simmer and shrivel.
Once the fruits are soft and start losing shape, add jaggery and salt. Let the jaggery melt. Stir to combine everything.
Keep simmering at low to medium heat till you're happy with the consistency. Turn off the heat and add vinegar.
Pour into jar, seal and keep in cool place to store or refrigerate (after it has cooled down) for longer shelf life.