Over the past few years our garden has yielded an abundance of deliciously golden Cape Gooseberry fruit – all for ‘free’ as the plants have seeded themselves and simply got on with their cycle of reproduction. There is usually so much fruit that our grandchildren could pick mugfuls and there would still be enough to both satisfy the birds and allow me to make jam or to make a sauce for ice-cream. These gooseberries were a late autumnal / early winter treat that meant one could pick a few after hanging out the laundry or simply when passing by one of the many bushes weighed down with fruit.
Then came the relentless drought. Many gooseberry bushes sprung up as usual, but hardly any survived – and those have scarcely enough fruit to make picking worthwhile. Besides, the birds need that sustenance more than I do! Hopefully, like the Canary creeper, the gooseberries will bounce back again next year – if we get some decent rain between now and next autumn.
Fewer Cape Gooseberry bushes than usual have appeared in our garden this year – probably as a result of the long drought – and they seem to be producing fewer berries. Nonetheless, I have been eyeing the ripening fruits with anticipation, realising that I would need to take a share before the birds make off with the rest. My harvest was a modest cup and a half picked in the fading light of day.
Hulled, the bounty looked so beautiful that I had to resist eating them raw.
I had other plans for them though – made on the spur of the moment or I may have picked more and waited to add to my collection over a couple of days. I added sugar and water.
They bubbled away on the stove … and bubbled … while I stirred and wondered whether or not I had added too much water.
Eventually they all reduced to this:
Even though the resulting jam doesn’t even fill a jar, it is very tasty – and all the more so for it comes from the garden. A lovely autumnal treat.
I was so pleased when Cape Gooseberries first took root in our garden several years ago. The tinned variety of their golden fruits had long been a favourite of mine as a child and I still rate gooseberry jam among the best – along with tomato jam.
Our first gooseberry bushes probably arrived courtesy of fruit-eating birds. I have watched some of them become so laden with fruit that they bent under the weight of them. Even having eaten our fill, there were always plenty left for the birds. At first I allowed them to grow wherever they wished – until gradually they shaded out the lettuces, the carrots, the compost heap, and even made it difficult to park on the driveway at times. Now I ruthlessly remove plants growing in unsuitable places – yet there are still many others all over the garden.
Having grown up in an area where gooseberries did not thrive, I was rather taken aback when a visitor from KwaZulu-Natal wondered aloud why I did not get rid of them as they ‘are a scourge’ in the conservation areas he works in. That he called them an alien invader got me thinking – how could Cape Gooseberries be anything other than indigenous? To my surprise, I later discovered that the plant is actually native to Brazil, although it has been cultivated in this country since before 1807. Given how delicious the fruit is, it is no wonder that those early settlers would have wished to have ready access to it.
From the moment the first flowers appear one’s taste buds ready themselves for the golden round berries that provide such luscious sweetness. Not many make it to the table as it were, for everyone walking through the garden enjoys picking a handful in passing.
At first one sees the green promise of a feast in the making.
During the fruiting season though the Cape Gooseberry plants generally bear fruits that are in various stages of ripening, so there is the reassurance of being able to enjoy them over a long period.
One needs to be patient enough to wait until the husks turn straw-coloured before opening them to enjoy the fruit. The delicate remains of the even older husks cage the promise of incredible sweetness within.
Once the season is over, the garden is littered with the delicate tracery of fruits that have escaped the notice of both humans and birds. The intact empty husks tell the tale of a future season of mouth-watering sweetness.
While my plants are all self-sown, one can purchase packets of seeds and even buy plants from nurseries.