Discover the Ground Cherry
A wonderful memory I have from childhood, is sneaking into our garden, on my hands and knees, and "stealing" a little fruit called a Ground Cherry. I am certain that they tasted all the better because I had foraged them myself. PLUS, they came in these cute little packages-paper-like lanterns that held the little cherry sized fruit inside. It sort of wrecked things when I found out as an adult that my parents knew just what I had been doing all along. It, retroactively, sort of took all the fun out.
Ground cherries were used by the Native Americans and the Pioneers alike. For good reason, the versatile fruit will keep for up to 6 months in its hull with good ventilation. They also freeze very well.
They can be used in jams, put in muffins and quick breads, pies, and more. Its flavor seems to get a different description from every person tasting it. There are many varieties, but even with two different people tasting the same variety, the description of taste is often very different. Most will say descriptives like this: "strawberry-like", "sort of citrusy", "it reminds me of a mild pineapple flavor" -all different, all positive. Among our friends and family I have yet to get a negative response to the humble ground cherry.
I have also had people say, "Oh yes...I do remember these! I think I had these when I was really little. I think my Grandma made this pie"! It is fun to watch the nostalgia wash over faces. Amazing what buttons in the brain can get pushed by a taste bud.
If you are lucky enough to find ground cherries, I will give you a couple of recipes to get you going. Sadly most of you are not going to be able to locate them. Your best chance is to grow them yourself.
This is highly satisfying. I will warn you however to dedicate a patch of soil to the ground cherries and leave it for that. They are survivors, self seeding, year after year. There are farms, many of them that have the same heirloom ground cherries that have been growing there at least four generations (how cool is that?).
There are seed exchanges on the internet and seed companies where you can find real ground cherries. There can be confusion as to what a ground cherry is. A true ground cherry can go by many names, strawberry tomato, husk tomato, bladder tomato, and more.
To harvest, wait for the cherry, husk and all to fall off the plant. If they are still on the greenish side, place them on a flat tray, uncovered, in a dry warm area and most of them should fully ripen. My variety turns a nice orangey yellow.
Ground Cherry Pie
This is a great recipe I have used for several years
2 ½ to 3 cups Ground Cherries Washed
2/3 cup Brown Sugar
1 heaping Tablespoon Flour
2 tablespoons Water
3 tablespoon Sugar
3 tablespoon Flour
2 ½ tablespoons Butter
Place ground cherries into an unbaked pie shell. Stir together the brown sugar and the 1 tablespoon of flour-put this evenly over the ground cherries and then sprinkle water-again evenly-over all.
Stir together the 3 tablespoons sugar and the 3 tablespoons flour. Cut in the butter until it is crumbly-Place on top of pie.
Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 15 minutes. Then turn down to 375 degrees and bake another 25 to 28 minutes.
Ground Cherry Marmalade Taken from "The Farm Journal's Country Cookbook" 1972
3 cups Ground Cherries husked and washed
2 cups Pears cooked, drained, and diced finely
¾ cup Water
½ cup Crushed Pineapple (drained)
¼ cup Lemon Juice
7 cups Sugar
½ bottle Liquid Fruit Pectin
Combine ground cherries, pears, and water: cook slowly for approx. 25 minutes.
Add the pineapple, lemon juice, and sugar-bring quickly to a full rolling boil. Add pectin: boil rapidly for 3 min.
Remove from heat and alternately skim and stir marmalade for 3 minutes.
Pour into hot sterilized jars: seal. Makes 7 one half pint jars.
Well, this can get you going. Enjoy the new/old taste, and push some buttons in your memory.