Wanna join a cult? Don’t raise your eyebrows at me! This cult is one you’ll want to be a part of, trust me. It revolves around a small golden orb that appears out of a papery vessel that fell out of the sky. Really! I swear! Alright, before half of you click the little “X” in the upper corner of the screen, I’ll stop being goofy. I’m talking about ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa): a crop that was new to me this year and one that’s got me smitten.
I was very curious about ground cherries after my mom sent me an article on them out of a newspaper dedicated to farming topics in Pennsylvania. Purportedly, they have been a long-time favorite of the state’s “plain folk” (Amish and Mennonite), especially for pie making. That being said, I grew up in a valley full of plain folk and never once ran across these delicious little relatives of Solanaceae crops you may be more familiar with such as tomatoes, eggplants and peppers. I decided to give them the end of a row in my vegetable garden to see what they would do. Let me tell you, these are tough plants! I rarely remembered to water them because they were hidden by my giant popcorn stalks and while everything else in my garden succumbed to one variety or another of disease or insect, these babies remained lush and producing like mad!
However, I was completely in the dark about how and when to harvest their little fruits encased in a papery husk not unlike tomatillos or goose berries or, even, Chinese lanterns (they are not the same thing though). With repeated testing over the season, I finally realized they’re ripening when the husk turns tan/brown. But the truly ripe ones are the ones that are….wait for it…wait for it… ON THE GROUND! Ha, I finally understood why they’re call ground cherries! They do have several other common names though, including husk tomato and husk cherry. Whatever you call them, they’re delicious!
The article that inspired the planting said they tasted like a cross between a pineapple and a tomato. Like you are no doubt now reading this, I was pretty skeptical. But, honestly, that’s exactly what they taste like. I love eating them fresh in my morning yogurt. They have a little tang that perks up anything sweet. My plants have already produced about two bushels of fruit and have more blooms on them so there’s plenty more a-comin’. You’ll see a few recipes for them here in future posts this fall, but I figured I’d kick things off with the most traditional use: pie.
Nothing could be simpler or more delicious than Ground Cherry Pie. I promise you once you get a slice of it, you’ll soon be joining the cult right alongside me. They are relatively expensive due to their limited availability, but you’re welcome to as many as you can carry in your shirt if you come to my garden. Assuming some of you might want to find something closer to home, check for these delightful underused fruits at your local famers market (in Philly, they can usually be procured at the Headhouse and Reading Terminal markets). When selecting ground cherries, try to avoid getting too many green husks as they won’t ripen very well. Most of the husks should at least be showing some signs of turning tan. Really ripe ones have papery husks and are firm when you squeeze the deep yellow fruit inside. Squishy ones are no good.
So, consider this your intro/hazing to the wonderful world of ground cherries/husk tomatoes/husk cherries. Stay tuned for instructions on making jam, salsa and drying them for easy portable snacking, among other things. And if you don’t believe me that this fruit is spawning a cult, google it. You’ll see what I mean.
GROUND CHERRY PIE
Adapted from Allrecipes.com
3 C. ground cherries*
Zest of one lemon
1/2 C. (scant) packed brown sugar
1 T. all-purpose flour
¼ t. freshly ground nutmeg
¼ t. salt
2 T. water
1 (9 inch) pie shell, unbaked
4 T. all-purpose flour
4 T. white sugar
3 T. cold butter, cubed
*If you find yourself a little short on enough ground cherries to fill the pie shell, you can add a chopped up fresh peach or two.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Prepare pie crust if making your own.
Wash ground cherries, toss with zest, and place in unbaked pie shell. Mix brown sugar, tablespoon of flour, nutmeg and salt. Sprinkle over cherries. Sprinkle water over top. Mix together 4 tablespoons flour and 4 tablespoons sugar. Cut butter in until crumbly. Top cherry mixture with crumbs.
Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, reduce temperature to 375 degrees F and continue to bake for 25 minutes.
(serves 8 )