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February 2006

Cape Gooseberry or Tiparee Upside down Cake.


In the dark days of Black Thunder, back in the Eighties, when half of Amritsar sat cloistered in their comfortable bungalows unwilling to be drawn out into the uncertain world of terrorist controlled Punjab, I would be beckoned by the unruly market beside the Haathi Darwaza at the outskirts of the old city where the fresh produce of the green fields of the state were tipped out in huge mounds for all to buy, where the creamiest yellow corn , the greenest sag and reddest tomatoes jostled for space with a hill of strange looking papery beige globes with flashes of orange and pale green peeping through.

Cape Gooseberries

This is what had lured me out, made me brave the early morning of a cold February, with greater dangers lurking than chilblains or frostbite. Cape Gooseberries, the wrapped fruit, perfect for the muddy pockets of youth , that could be popped into a hungry mouth once the fruit was disclosed from its tissue covers like a precious present, was my goal.
I would wind my dupatta round my head, covering my forehead and around my ears in true blue sardarni style and wander though the heaps of vegetables, stooping to uncover a shy gooseberry to check its colour for ripeness.
In that melee of people, vegetables, hues and life the search for the perfectly ready Cape Gooseberry became all important with an unhurried day of jam making to look forward to, terrorists be damned. At Rs 3 a kilo I could have picked up a large basket of gooseberries without harm to my pocket and done the picking over later.

Today Cape Gooseberries or Lucknowi ki Pitari as they are known locally, or makowi as they are known in North India , are available for a considerably higher price and it would be wise to make your selection before buying by opening their coverings and checking for green immature ones or mould and decay. The unripe fruit is said to be poisonous to some people.

Physalis peruviana L. or Cape Gooseberry, also commonly known as Popati in Marathi, the Goldenberry, Husk Cherry, Ground Cherry, Poha, or Poha Berry, depending on the country and language, are grown in Loni and Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra. Those are sour compared to the Lucknowi ones, says Ahmed my fruiterer, at the century old Shivaji Market in the Pune Cantonment. These are trucked to Bombay from where they are distributed to the smaller towns. Cape Gooseberries are popularly known as a blood purifier or khoon safi and they are known for other medicinal qualities elsewhere being a source of provitamin A (3,000 I.U. Of carotene per 100 g) and vitamin C, as well as some of the vitamin B-complex (thiamine, niacin, and vitamin B,21). In India scientists have isolated from the leaves a minor steroidal constituent, physalolactone C.

Physalis Peruviana
At the beginning of the 19th Century, early settlers in South Africa cultivated the fruit near the Cape Of Good Hope from where it derives its name. But it is believed to have originated in the Andes, is native to Brazil and became identified with the region around Peru and Colombia. One writer lists the Cape Gooseberry as one of 'The Lost Crops of the Incas' which makes me think of a hidden abundance of gold, when I look at the Chinese lantern shape of its husk, which protects the fruit while it ripens.

Since the bush grows well on poor soil, with no fertilizer, it is a perfect plant for the Indian rural kitchen garden.. Wherever the tomato can grow so can the gooseberry. In fact when the seeds were transported from South Africa to Australia the plant took to the sandy soil with such a vengeance that it is sometimes viewed, rather unkindly, at as a type of weed in that part of the world.

Because of its high pectin content the gooseberry makes excellent jam and is known as the jam fruit in India, what Mrs Gadsby refers to as "that horrid , horrid Tiparee jam" in Rudyard Kiplings 'The Story of the Gadsbys,' 1888, not because of its taste but because she burns her hand on it.

We are also told by Mrs. J. Bartley in 'Indian Cooking General for Young Housekeepers' published in Bombay 1901.,

"Tipparee, called also Brazil cherries and Cape Gooseberries , is said to be unequalled (in the world) for making jams and jellies. The ripe berries with their weigh of sugar are stirred and boiled gently till the mixture reaches the proper consistency."

The anglisized spelling reminds me of the famous WW1 song. 'Its a long way to Tipperary' and in some way may have had had the same feeling of nostalgia the soldiers departing for Ireland had for British soil and all things British, including jam, which was unknown at the time in India.
Many young people will recall holidays in the hills of the South, in Kodaikanal or Yercaud where the fruit grows wild, and could be eaten directly off the bush or collected to take home and make jam or boiled down to a sticky fudge like consistency and savoured like aam papad.
February is the month when this fruit makes its appearance in local markets but they continue to be available in the South till May.
What follows is , not a recipe for the jam, which is good, but an Indian style Upside Down cake with Gur/Jaggery..

Cape Gooseberry Upside Down Cake.

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Serves 6


40 large Cape gooseberries ( 2 cups)
1/2 cup softened butter
2 tablespoons gur / jaggery bits the size of peas or grated.
1/2 cup powdered sugar
11/2 cups flour (maida)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup semolina ( fine sooji)
Pinch of salt.
2 eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 tablepoons gooseberry juice
4 drops vanilla essence
7"- 8 "cake tin
2 tablespoons whipping cream (optional)

With a paring knife carefully slit each gooseberry across till the stem but keep both halves attached. In a pan simmer the gooseberries over a very low fire till some of the juice is released and the berries become softstill keeping their shape and not pulpy. Take off the fire, pour off the juice and keep aside.
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and pour it into the prepared cake tin. Arrange the gooseberries on the base of the tin and sprinkle the gur bits on the top.
Heat the oven to Gas mark 6 or 350 degrees for 10 minutes.
Cream the rest of the butter and sugar together till light and fluffy.
In a bowl sift the flour and baking powder. Add the semolina and a pinch of salt.
Beat the two eggs and add 1 1/2 tablespoons of the juice from the cooked gooseberries and 1 1/2 tablespoons of milk to the mixture. Add the vanilla essence as well.
Now mix the flour mixture into the butter mixture in three parts alternating with the egg mixture. When well mixed spoon the mixture over the gooseberries in a 7-8" diameter cake tin. Place in the oven and cook till done, about 30 minutes. Let it cool and turn out on to a serving plate.
Top with whipping cream.

Lost in Translation

Wayne Bremser , from the wonderful 101 Cookbooks made a perceptive comment- "One good thing about many of these blogs about Indian cuisine is that they take the photo of the ingredients in neat little piles. Which gives the impression that the recipe is easy".
And it made me think. Yes my blog too has several ingredient photographs.But I don't think it is so much to do with making the recipe look so simple. It is used more as a way of identifying some ingredients. Several spices have different names in India, as we have so many languages. Sometimes it is a question of saying 'are you talking about the same thing I am talking about.' And there are regional variations which can be confusing. Its a bit like going to Japan and trying to order something in a restaurant. That is why Tokyo restaurants have so many pictures to go with their menus.They are used to tourists. "I'd like that" is easy enough. More language skills aren't necessary. And obvously the word 'sushi' doesn't cover the Japanese cuisine.
It seems odd, perhaps, to people from other countries that one Indian state and another can differ so much in language, clothing, culture, and food, that an Indian can often feel like a tourist in his / her own country.The problem is multiplied further by living far away from the place of origin. The Indian diaspora is spread wider than most other communities. A Bengali may know that Amda is hog plum in English but when reading an Indian recipe from Tamilnadu may not know that it is called Kotte pulchankal in Tamil.
Take for example Wood Apple. It is known as Bhelphal in Hindi and Marathi, Vilampazham in Tamil, Velagapandu in Telegu, Belphal in Kannada, Khotu in Gujerati and I bet you don't know what a wood apple is to begin with.
The easiest way out is to photograph the constituents of the recipe.One of my posts on gourds has been referred to over and over again by people from all over the world. And I am sure it is because the post helps recognition.
Then again the photographing of ingredients may be something other than identification.The ta-da !! joy of managing to track each of a long list of ingredients? Or could it be the sheer beauty of all that is natural, that the texture and colour of raw food is far more attractive than the mish mash of the final result, which is what a lot of Indian curries looks like, though it's all jolly tasty.
Could it go even deeper than that? That we are don't take things for granted and have not become blase about much that is commonplace in other cultures? One is still in awe of a fat clove of garlic, a perfect leaf of baby spinach or a ripe but not rotten tomato. I don't know for certain.
I still like that picture of the the raw stuff.They are the notes of my music, the sa re ga of my raga, the paints for my painting,the ochre ,burnt umber,indian red of my picture, the dha dhin dhin dha steps of my dance...and who knows, after all, what they will create ???

Pearl Millet Flat 'Bread' / Bajra Alu Paratha


I am sitting here and enjoying the fruits of my own labour.Yummy. It is a bajri atta alu paratha.That's a mouthful and so it this...Its nutty and tastier than many other wheat alu parathas I've eaten before. It's, like the ad goes, "different".
Semi arid areas and sandy soil form the oyster in which Bajra, otherwise known as bullrush or pearl millet , is grown. Rajasthan has the highest area under bajra cultivation and this crop dominates some areas of Gujerat and Maharashtra as well. Naturally it is used in these parts for roti s a healthy alternative to white or wheat flour.

For those who are interested here is a useful chart of all the nutrients in pearl millet.

I buy bajra, ready ground, in Deccan Gymkhana from Vaid and Sons, who always has a fresh stock of all the millets.


  • 250 gm maida ( white flour)

  • 150 gms bajri ki atta/ pearl millet flour

  • 1 tsp. salt

  • 300ml water

  • 8 tsp. butter


  • 2 medium potatoes /about 200 gms, boiled and peeled

  • 2 green chilies, slit ,deseeded and minced.

  • 2 tbsp. of ginger chopped fine

  • 2 tbsp. fresh coriander, chopped

  • 1 tsp. anar dana/ dried pomegranate seeds.

  • 1 tsp. red chilli powder

Mix water in flour"

Mix the flours and salt together. Make a well in the centre and fill with water. Slowly incorporate the water into the flour.Knead for 5-8 minutes till the dough forms a smooth ball.

Rest ball of dough

It has a slightly greying tinge unlike wheat flour.Cover with a damp cloth and let it rest while you get the filling together.

Mix filling ingredients

Mash the potatoes, add green chillies,ginger, coriander, pomegranate seeds and chilli powder. Mix well. Divide into 8 portions.

Divide the dough into 8 portions as well. Flour a surface and taking one ball of dough , with floured hands press it out into a circle about 3 inches in diameter. Take one portion of flling and place in the center. Gather the edges of the dough together and press firmly till no joints show. Press down on floured surface again and roll out into a circle of 7 inches diameter.If you want to make a perfect circle place extra pressure on the rolling pin with one hand and the roti will turn automatically.This takes a bit of practice.

Heat a griddle/tawa and when hot slap the paratha down on it.Keep heat on medium and cook till the surface of the paratha develops spots and changes colour.Turn over and let it cook on the other side. Now drizzle butter around the circumferance of the paratha and let it cook for another few minutes. Turn over and do the same on the other side.The layer of dough rises off the filling as it cook. Press the edges of the paratha with a spatula to make it cook.
Repeat with the other 7 portions of dough and filling.

Hot Hot Parathas

Serve hot with yogurt and pickle.
Take a bite out of my paratha. Its GOOOD.