Ground cherries

The first ground cherries of the season lay strewn like paper lanterns across the table of Bon Terra Nursery at the Orleans Farmers' Market yesterday. Part sweet part savory, the uncommon fruits are an old-fashioned treat, all but forgotten on the modern table.

It wasn't until examining a southeastern Massachusetts harvest calendar the other day, in fact, that I'd ever heard of them. As I read past apples and apricots, blueberries and cantaloupe, gooseberries and grapes, I came upon the mysterious words. A quick Google of "ground cherry" turned up a picture, and I wondered at the delicate relative of the Mexican tomatillo.

According to most sources, the plants grow wild across the United States, spreading along roadsides and disturbed soil, hardy pioneers in the face of opportunity. Tucked into their husks, they will store for months on end, still edible in the winter months when the cherry tomato seems a figment of August's imagination.

Those who know of the fruits often remember them from the pies of a grandmother or aunt. Their flavor is reminiscent of a cross between a tomato and a pineapple, their texture and size just slightly smaller than that of a cherry tomato. While I'm sure they're excellent sugared and baked, for now I'm content just to snack on them.


Anonymous said...

These are indeed wonderful little fruits. I planted 16 plants this spring and only got about two pounds of fruit. They are a lot of work, but are very good.
Cindy in FL

Elspeth said...

Thanks, Cindy. I've heard they store well in their husks...have you found that to be true? It would certainly be nice to have some fresh tomato-like fruits around once the real ones stop coming. Maybe I'll think about planting some of the bushes this spring!

Anonymous said...

My local squirrels and chipmunks beat me to most of mine. Next year I am covering the bed with bird netting! The only ones I am able to get come from a volunteer plant that popped up in a flower bed near our busy street; apparently the critters do not check there for goodies! But as the 4-5 plants I had in my raised bed garden ripened and dropped the fruits, all I'd find each day were empty husks lying all around. Shaking the vines lightly causes those nearly ripe ones to drop so I can gather them, but there are so many empty husks it is really hard to pick out the good ones. Grrrr... A few years ago, in a different home, I got enough to make a pie and really impressed my botanical friends!

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