In March of 2014 Jonathan and I were able to travel to Peru for a week through a UConn program focused on economic empowerment. We stayed half our time in Lima, and the other half up in the Andes where most of the farming happens. Our 12-hour bus ride was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life. And the altitude sickness when we arrived was no picnic either. All this discomfort fell away as we stood looking from one emerald green side of the longest continental mountain range in the world, across a deep valley to the other side – a patchwork of fields, stuck onto the steep mountainsides, that farmers had been cultivating for centuries. It was mind-boggling to imagine how the work had been done at such a steep pitch. Certainly with limited machinery, the use of terraces, and keen attention to the soil conditions in order to keep it from simply running off the slope.
Also mesmerizing is how incredibly varied and diverse Andean agriculture is – a result of how frequently the micro-climates change from the base to the top of the mountain. As you travel higher and higher the climate changes and therefore so do the crops grown. From corn, to, grains like quinoa, to hundreds of varieties of potatoes, to some of the most delicious fruit I’ve ever tasted – passion fruit, citrus, papaw, and the goldenberry.
The goldenberry, for which I write this post, goes by many names, and is a cousin of the tomato and tomatillo. It is a smooth, round, apricot-colored fruit that grows within a papery husk and is full of small edible seeds like the tomatillo. It is one of the most delicious things I have ever put in my mouth, and it was with glee that I found myself high up in the clouds, trying to keep my balance as I harvested goldenberries with our host farmer for market.
After some casual inquiry into the legality of bringing home a few goldenberry seeds to plant in CT, I was informed that it is indeed a very serious crime to transport plant material between countries, and promptly gave up the idea. However, this spring I did find a small farm in Oregon, Horizon Herbs, that carried the same goldenberries I had tasted in Peru (Physalis Peruviana). I am told they are to be trellised like tomatoes, after much careful rearing in the greenhouse. Ours are just growing into their 4-inch pots, so will probably be a late crop for the Fall. What a moment it will be to pop a home-grown, CT goldenberry into my mouth! My fingers are crossed.