There’s something fishy about these berries
Nothing fishy about the flavor, it’s all about the name. What I noticed on the bag of dried berries above was Beeren in German, meaning berry, and Groseille in French, meaning redcurrant. If I had noticed the smaller word in French that says maquereau (meaning the oily fish mackerel), I most probably would have hesitated, and put them back on the shelf. Who wants mackerel berries anyhow?! But I was at Globus, Zürich’s answer to Dean & Deluca, where everything looks so colorful and perfect and so attractively delicious. Sitting beside the bags of raisins and dried apricots, there they were. Looking like a more firm, brighter version of mulberries, I was enticed. A serious lover of dried fruit and forever curious in food markets, I didn’t even question it, just grabbed them. But when I tasted one back at home, by the look of my face, you’d think I had just swallowed a whole lemon. For me, it was extremely sour, with a displeasing aftertaste. I would later learn that I am not alone.
Back to Globus I went to find out about my mysterious and unappetizing berries. My simple inquiry led to a fun, animated discussion between myself, Laurent behind the impeccably organized rainbow of a fruit counter, and Sven, who was at that moment organizing the packets of perfectly cut rings of dried apple. He told me simply, they’re physalis. Physalis I said? But what’s this all about fish then?! Laurent was absolutely sure of himself that they were not physalis, but rather dried redcurrants. Sven disappeared for some time, while Laurent and I laughed about the curious meaning of fish berries. Sven reappeared, quite proud I would say, with several printouts from his computer that gave the origin, nutrition details and photos of physalis, also known as Kap Stachebeeren, along with another page from linguatec, which gave the translation of Kap Stachelbeeren as…. cap de groseilles à maquereau. So it was physalis afterall. Feeling defeated, Laurent and I could only continue to laugh about the name.
But after all was said and done, I still insisted that the flavor was rather off-putting. Laurent recommended plenty of ways for me to use physalis, as decoration on desserts or as a snack in the afternoon. They are small, yellow smooth round fruits wrapped in their own papery husk that resemble mini Chinese lanterns. You can unwrap them and then eat as is, or even dip them in chocolate and serve after dinner with coffee. They do look very pretty, opened with the husks still attached. I hear they make excellent jams and purees too. But what about the dried physalis, that was my real question. He never tasted them. At which point, he had no choice. Into his mouth he popped a dried mackerel berry, and his reaction: a wincing effect similar to my own, not for him either.
Back home, staring at my bags of fresh and dried physalis, I was not quite satisfied. My preliminary research showed that physalis was called groseille à macquereau in French simply because of its common pairing with the fish. When I dug deeper, a new element was introduced: the gooseberry. Kap Stachelbeeren translated not only as physalis but as cape gooseberry. The London Times online explained at great length many different varieties of lesser known berries, including the gooseberry: “…Tart and green early season but soften in taste and texture over summer. Use in crumbles or pies, poach then purée to make the classic fool, ice cream, or a tangy sauce for rich roasts like pork or oily fish such as mackerel.” And Three Acres restaurant in Shelley, England serves a seared fresh Cornish mackerel with crispy bacon, potato and horseradish croquette, and a tomato and gooseberry chutney. So there it was, twice, gooseberries and mackerel. Are physalis and gooseberries one and the same? No. But physalis and cape gooseberries are.
It all came together on various online sources, including the Britannica Encyclopedia, where I learned that “Physalis peruviana, commonly known as physalis, is indigenous to South America, but was cultivated in South Africa in the region of the Cape of Good Hope during the 1800s, imparting its common name, cape gooseberry.” Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book, her encyclopedic work on all berries and fruit from A to Z, also confirms that physalis and cape gooseberry are the same, but go by yet another name, the golden berry.
Wait until Laurent and Sven hear this!
Globus at Bellevue