Sticky, sweet & incredibly exotic, you might not believe it but uber trendy South American inca berries are infinitely easier to grow than the lowly tomato. If you plant just 1 fruit crop next year, make this it!
WHAT ARE INCA BERRIES?
With their delicious tropical fruit flavour of ripe pineapples mixed with fresh kiwis, you might think the shiny golden fruit of inca berries would be terribly tricky to grow in the UK, requiring fancy heated greenhouses and teamfuls of staff. However despite their exotic appearance & chef’s penchant for using them in chic patisserie and posh cocktails, I believe the plants have to be the most overlooked and easiest to grow of all annual fruits.
HOW TO GROW INCA BERRIES
Sown just like their relative the tomato in March or April and planted outdoors when all risk of frost has past, these make super-productive, fast-growing plants that require none of the slavish devotion to feeding, watering & training that their cousins do, yet will provide you with a crop that’s twice as expensive to buy in the shops.
Drought tolerant and resistant to most pests and diseases (including the dreaded blight), come late September you will be rewarded with handfuls of sticky sweet berries for very little work in return.
Given just a little coddling the plants can often prove hardy in most parts of the UK, with my 3 plants kicking out hundreds of fruit every year despite having been left to fend for themselves outdoors over two of the coldest winters in a century. Not bad for a fruit we usually fly in from Colombia hey?
Give ‘em a sheltered spot & a nice thick mulch (an insulating layer of compost laid over their bases) and they should pop back up each spring after being knocked down by December frosts.
Don’t believe me? Well inca berries, under the name ‘Tipparees’, were once a common outdoor crop all over the UK in Victorian times. Mrs Beeton even made jam out of them! Check out my simplified twist on her classic recipe below.
HOW TO EAT INCA BERRIES
Apart from their winning flavour, inca berries also have an extremely long shelf-life, staying fresh for up to 3 months from a September picking – making them the only fresh homegrown berry you can eat on your Christmas dinner table. They are also packed full of pectin, meaning a perfect set for jams & jellies everytime without the need to use fancy jam sugars or adding liquid pectin.
Delicious straight from the bush, simmered up in pies, tumbled into crumbles or even chopped into fruity salsas, the berries are as versatile as they are easy to grow. However above all else, this is my absolute favourite inca berry recipe – shamelessly adapted from a Beetonian classic.
BUTTERED INCA BERRY & PINEAPPLE JAM (Makes 1 jar)
1) De husk 40 inca berries & slice them in half.
2) Pop all the sliced fruit into a pan with 100g caster sugar and 1/2 cup of pineapple juice & stir together. Bring to the boil and simmer over a medium heat for 15 minutes stirring occasionally.
3) After simmering for 15 minutes you will have a pan of softened fruit with wrinkly skins, floating in what looks like a disconcerting amount of syrupy liquid. Don’t panic, this will soon thicken during the next step. Blitz the whole lot up with a stick blender, or alternatively, mash them up with the back of a fork and whisk briskly to combine.
4) Stir in 1/2 tsp of butter until it melts and is entirely incorporated. This comparatively tiny amount of butter entirely transforms the flavour of the jam, turning it from fresh and fruity into something altogether more deep, rich & exotic.
5) Whilst still piping hot pour the mix into sterilised jars (just run ‘em through the dishwasher to do this) & seal the lids. The smoothie-like consistency will soon set on cooling.
For full instructions on how to grow, cook and eat Inca Berries check out pg 236 of my new book Homegrown Revolution!