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.