Monday, October 13, 2014

Have You Ever Eaten a Ground Cherry?


For several weeks this summer, my 7-year-old would wake up early, put on her rain boots, go outside (still in her pajamas!), and go straight to the garden... to pick and eat Ground Cherries.

Ground Cherry
Even though the Ground Cherry is native to most of the Americas and was eaten by Native Americans and Pilgrims, most people have never heard of this little fruit.  Indeed, I had never had one until last year, but after tasting them I immediately wanted to start growing my own!


Physalis pruinosa, also synonymous with Physalis pubescens, has many nicknames, including Ground Cherry, Husk Cherry, and Husk Tomato.  The Ground Cherry is related to Tomatoes and Tomatillos, but the little fruits are more sweet and fruity tasting.  Even though they keep well for a long time, they have likely fallen out of favor now because they are so small and each one has a papery husk on it that you have to remove before eating.

A Ground Cherry is actually about the size of a small grape.
I often hear Ground Cherries described as tasting like a cross between a pineapple and a tomato.  The taste can be rather variable.  I've tasted two different kinds.  A nearby farm grows a variety that tastes rather like a pineapple, but with an earthy flavor, rather like ripe banana.  The ones I grew this year were brighter tasting, like a cross between a pineapple and a mango - absolutely delicious!  I think the variety I grew were much tastier, but they were smaller and seedier than the farm-grown ones.  


There are only a few known named cultivars of Ground Cherries - Aunt Molly's, Cossack Pineapple, and Goldie.  (The Ground Cherry seeds that I grew were not named.)  Physalis pruinosa does also have many edible relatives, such as the similar-looking Physalis peruvianaaka Cape Gooseberry.  


Even though you grow them the same way you grow Tomatoes, Ground Cherries are hardier and much easier to grow.  They are not as picky about soil, they don't have to be staked, they don't have as many problems with disease, and critters don't eat them, since most of the plant (including the husk surrounding the fruit) is toxic.  The plants are short and wide, resembling Tomatillo plants more than Tomato plants, and the plentiful fruit look a lot like little Tomatillos.  The papery husk on them turns yellow as it ripens, and when they are totally ripe, they will fall to the ground - thus the nickname Ground Cherries.  

plants loaded down with green Ground Cherries
Ground Cherries are very versatile - they can be eaten plain or cooked in savory or sweet dishes.  According to Edible Omaha, some Native Americans tribes used Ground Cherries to make a savory relish.  A recipe from the Zuni tribe combines them with onions, chili paste, and coriander.  On the other hand, early European settlers used them to make pie and jam.  I think Ground Cherries would taste great in a salad (with some goat cheese, perhaps?).  And we all knew it was just a matter of time before someone dipped them in chocolate...

Unfortunately (for me), I was not able to collect very many Ground Cherries this year for cooking - my kids ate them all before I got the chance!  I wanted to try a pie, but even then I had to supplement my scanty leftover amount of Ground Cherries with peaches.

Ground Cherry and Peach Pie... yum!
They are supposed to reseed easily, so hopefully there will be even more Ground Cherries next year - enough for the kids and for me!


So have you ever eaten a Ground Cherry?

18 comments:

  1. One of my favourite pudding memories is preparing a Physalis crumble on January 1st, made with fruits grown by my friends during the previous summer. The fruits kept superbly well in a crate in their cold pantry and made a perfect home-grown start to the new year! A fab fruit!

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    1. Mmm, a crumble sounds awesome! What a fun way to celebrate New Years!

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  2. I once grew a variety called cape gooseberries but didn't really care for their taste. I sometimes see as decoration on desserts. Glad you are enjoying your crop and I will say your pie does look delicious.

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    1. Thanks! I've never tasted a Cape Gooseberry before, though I know they are supposed to be similar. I've had some Ground Cherries that had too much of that earthy flavor, but the variety I grew was really good!

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  3. I have never eaten a ground cherry but they look very familiar. I wonder if I ever could have seen them growing wild. I would love to try them.

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    1. There are lots of different native varieties in the Physalis family, some of which are even considered almost weeds, so you very well might have seen some!

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  4. I have never seen these in person or eaten them...would love to try them but fear the critters would get them first.

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    1. That's the best thing about them - the critters don't eat them. The papery husk is toxic, so it protects the fruit. I think most of the plant is poisonous. I have mine growing outside my veggie garden fence, and nothing had touched them.

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  5. I have wild plants with orange husks. I like them for Halloween decorations, but I don't know if they are good to eat or not. I do know I have to weed them out not plant them!

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    1. Those are probably Chinese Lanterns, which are in the same family. Very decorative, but sadly they don't taste very good. I've heard they can be invasive. My grandmother has them growing in various spots in her yard, and I think they are so pretty.

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  6. Hi Indie: How cute that your kids were so excited to eat them! Yes, we have Ground Cherries growing wild up at our cottage. Two years ago we had a decent crop, but this year, not so much. I think our variety is Clammy Ground Cherries (Physalis heterophylla). I did a post about it two years ago: http://bit.ly/1w9Tnvs. Ours tasted the way you described them, too. Fun plant, and tasty, too. :)

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    1. Very interesting! I had wondered how some of the other wild varieties tasted. I wish I could find some growing wild on my property - what luck!

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  7. Ground cherries are totally new to me, Indie. This is a fascinating posting. I would love to try them. That pie looks delicious! P. x

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    1. Thank you! The peach worked quite well with the ground cherries, though one of these days I'd love to try a pie completely made out of ground cherries. Maybe next year!

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  8. So interesting! I didn't know anyone grew ground cherries anymore. My mother used to pick wild ones and make pies from them. I don't remember them tasting all that great, though; I'm sure the cultivars you mention probably are much tastier.

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    1. There are so many different wild relatives in this family. It would be interesting to taste the different ones!

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  9. we had Cape gooseberries. Took me a while to find out that weren't named for Cape Town, but for the cape that the berries wear.

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    1. I didn't realize that either. Funnily, I was thinking that Cape Gooseberries might be named for Cape Cod, near where I live :)

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