A Sandy Beach Almanac

You've landed at Sandy Beach, NSW, Australia: Lat. -30.15331, Long. 153.19960, UT +10:00 – local map & zoom Google map. I live in a cabin on this beach, 25 kilometres north of the traffic and shops of Coffs Harbour, 600 km north of Sydney. My intention is to post observations of Nature and life within 1 km (1,000 paces) of my South Pacific home.


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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A Tale of Two Gooseberries

I've talked about the Barnacle goose, but not the gooseberry, which is no relation.

This photo from the garden is of a gooseberry, as you can tell by the lack of feathers. The gooseberries are usually placed in genus Ribes, along with their near cousins, the blackcurrants and redcurrants.

Before very recently, I had never eaten a gooseberry, or even seen one, as far as I know. I grew up with Chinese gooseberries, which are unrelated and of the genus Actinidiaceae. I love these tart berries, and regret how much I've missed out on over the many, many decades by eating Chinese. Odd really -- Chinese is my least favourite Asian food. Give me Thai, Vietnamese or Cambodian any day. (Factoid for the day: there are more Thai restaurants in Australia than pizzerias ... that will even surprise the Aussies.)

There are some interesting word associations with these two unrelated fruit, and I will mention just a couple. It might be that the word 'gooseberry' is derived from the Dutch Kruisbezie , the German Krausbeere, or of the earlier forms of the French groseille. Thus, as Barnacle geese have nothing to do with crustaceans, gooseberries have nothing to do with geese.

However, the Chinese gooseberry doees have something to do with Chinese, because it was those good people who first found the plant and cultivated it. Then, the good folk of New Zealand (and there are known to be quite a few), discovered that Chinese gooseberries grew very well in their climate. This, of course, was a great boon for the Shaky Isles, because of the nature of their climate.

Then, sometime after my youth, the familiar Chinese gooseberries that I knew so well, were renamed Kiwifruit by either an enterprising Kiwi farmer ('Kiwi' being the generic nickname of a citizen of New Zealand, a name taken from the national bird, the flightless kiwi), or else an advertising or marketing agency or some New Zealand agricultural marketing board. I suspect a combination of the latter two.

In time, many in Australia grew to accept this arbitrary marketing nomenclature, though I prefer to honour the original cultivators, the Chinese. Then, the fruit gained many consumers in the USA, people who apparently were not aware that a kiwi is either a person or a bird, so they innocently shortened the commercial name of the Chinese gooseberry from 'kiwifruit' to kiwi. And that name has stuck in that country.

But in this one, it's still a kiwifruit, something best served when sliced and served on a pavlova. As for the meaning of 'pavlova', if you don't know, you're not Australian, and can find out by googling the words 'pavlova' and 'dessert'. if you find a recipe and can cook, make one. It is a superb dish.

I have neither pavlova nor kiwifruit, and no stove, come to think of it, so I'll content myself with a handful of gooseberries knocked to the ground sometime in the deluge of the past four days at Sandy Beach.

Afterthought: About 25 years ago when I was living on an intentional community called Boggy Creek, a Department of Ag man came round and said that with our soil and climate we should be putting in Chinese gooseberries ... I think he might have said kiwifruit as it was about then the advertising and marketing guys were having an influence. A few of the people on the community took his advice and dug the post holes and carted the timber to make the enormous trellises required to grow these fruit.

It seems that the Ag man must have gone to every farm in northern New South Wales and made the same recommendation. Several seasons later there were signs at the end of every gravel road in the north, each one bearing the tell-tale words, "Kiwifruit, $2 a bucket". And that was before the glut.

Afterafterthought and a curly question: So what do the Chinese call a Chinese gooseberry? Macaque peach (míhóu táo) is the most common term.


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