Of a Kumquaty Gooseberry from Peru

Why bother with facts, if you can happily guess instead? 
Earlier this year in Périgueux, France, I selected this scrumptious looking tarte au citron for dessert. Either, I assumed that the crowning fruit was a kumquat, or the salesperson told me. I don’t remember, but henceforth I labeled any image of this fruit or parts thereof as ‘kumquat’. Until now.
Two weeks ago, my friends Marcella & Mike and I were heading over to ‘Gelly’s Jardin’, a very popular ice cream & wifi hangout at the parque central. On Saturday mornings it’s also the ordering and distribution headquarters for organic produce, sold through ‘Vida Organica‘ [no website as far as I know, but you can get in touch through my email link]. Mike had been unsuccessfully looking high & low for Kale and made a beeline for Gelly’s as soon as I mentioned the magic words ‘organic kale’.

Since there is a minimum order requirement, I teamed up with another friend, Elaine, who was already hunched over an ordering form, when we arrived. She was debating the virtue of buying this over that, but as she really didn’t need a full order, she offered to share her order with me. I claimed some goat milk on her ticket, and on Elaine’s urging, I also checked an order of something called uchuva, which she praised as delicious fruit. I understand uvas, grapes, but I had never heard of uchuvas and Elaine couldn’t, at that moment, recall their English name. Her description, however, reminded me very much of the fruit you see perched on my tarte. So I decided, all on my own and without a smidgen of evidence, but above all, without ever having seen the darn fruit, that I had just ordered kumquat.

Moving forward by one week, we come to the pick-up Saturday. The uchuvas really did look just like the Frenchy fruit, I noticed happily, as I was taking my alleged kumquats home. 


How pretty my “kumquats” were, in their little lantern-shaped baskets. 


Next came the big question, what does one do with kumquats? As always, Google is a great help with conundrums of all ilk, including the proper way to consume a kumquat. It also gives you all the information you’ll ever need to educate yourself about the biology of kumquats, which raised a seed of doubt in my mind since the pictures of kumquat leaves bore no resemblance to what was laying in front of me on the kitchen counter. Yet, those doubts didn’t distract me from enjoying the aesthetic aspects of the fruit and the husks enclosing them.

But I still didn’t know how to best process my little golden globes. Enter Madame Huang’s Kitchen and her splendid recipe for Chinese Candied Kumquats. 

There was only one teensy-weensy little problem with my efforts of making kumquat candy. The fruit I pierced, cooked and soaked in sugar brine, didn’t have a citrusy rind with pungent essential oils springing forth upon handling. Simply put, my little pile of orange globes was not made up of kumquats. My fruit was not part of the kumquat family or even a member of a common order. Sharing the Kingdom of Plantae, was pretty much as close as one could get to a familial relationship between kumquats and my dripping wet orange thingies.

Only then did I attempt to find out, what uchuvas actually are. Turns out, this little yellow-orangy shine balls of tartness are closely related to another one of my favorite fruit, the tomatillo. They are so closely related as to be in the same nightshade genus of Physalis, one being Physalis peruviana, our uchuva, while the other, Physalis philadelphica, is the Mexican tomatillo. Tomatillo, meaning little tomato, aren’t simply unripe tomatoes, it’s a different fruit. The name tomatillo goes back to ‘tomatl’ meaning ‘fat thing’ in the Nahuatl language of Mexican indigenous people. When the Aztecs cultivated a similar fruit, only bigger* and bright red, this new cultivate was called jitomate, ‘fat thing with a naval’. [*Aztecs must have been close ancestors of present-day Texans: everything just a little bit larger!] The Spanish Overlords, not being hugely concerned about the finer points of indigenous culture**, exported the big red, fat things with navels to Europe, calling them tomatoes, while the small, green fat things without navels sank into oblivion – except in Mexico and Texas, where tomatillos continue to be highly regarded. [**I’ve mentioned this before, when the Conquistadores brought corn back to Spain but didn’t bother to learn, how to process it properly. Read all about that blooper here.]


Though it is the other physalis plant, the Peruvian uchuva, which is presently in such peril in my kitchen. It has many regional names and you may know it as Cape gooseberry, Inca berry, Kapstachelbeere, Pok pok or harankash, to name a few.


Having mistaking this delicate fruit for a sturdy citrus, we have to immediately halt all attempts to infuse and permeate. But of course, it is too late. I have bloopered royally myself!! The poor little, tortured berries have already ruptured and tiny, soft seeds are floating in the syrup like sesame seeds.

On the plus side, uchuva in syrup goes very well with the best ice cream in the universe. Ok, in Costa Rica, La Cosa Rica

However, if all else fails, you can always use them as art objects for Imaginography by Photolera Claudinha


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