Cult Fruit

September 18, 2008 at 8:56 pm 36 comments

Ground cherries in bowl

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. 

Rinsed ground cherries

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! 

Slice of ground cherry pie

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!

Fruit in pie

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. 

Tucked in to 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. 

Ready for the oven

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. 

Gooey warm deliciousness 

Adapted from

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 )

Entry filed under: Recipes, Sweet Treats. Tags: , , , , , , .

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36 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Paul  |  September 18, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    The first time I had one of these (at a small farmers market in Cambridge, Mass., where they were billed as “strawberry tomatoes”), my world moved, and these strange, delicious little things have been one of my favorite snacks (when I can get them) ever since. It never occurred to me to bake anything with them, though! This pie sounds delicious, and I’m flagging it so I can give it a try if I can manage to get my hands on enough.

  • 2. De in D.C.  |  September 19, 2008 at 12:57 am

    I’ve been wanting to try ground cherries for a while, but have never seen them for sale at my local markets! I might have to try growing my own next year.

    Funny you describe them as a cross between a tomato and a pineapple, because that’s exactly how I describe tomatillas. My monster tomatilla plant finally set *1* fruit, grrr… I asked our CSA farmer about them and he said if he has to leave the vines sprawling to get fruit to set; if he ties them up nothing happens. Mine are trellised. I wonder if that’s the cause of my great tomatilla failure this year.

  • 3. Lisa  |  September 19, 2008 at 5:58 am

    I have only just heard of these this year, and have yet to see them locally (NE PA). Did you purchase them as seeds or as seedlings? From a catalog or locally?

  • 4. Sharp  |  September 19, 2008 at 8:01 am

    For tomatillo plants, I think you need multiple plants to get the best pollination/fruiting. I had 3 plants in my garden and had about 300 tomatillos in the end. I ended up throwing out about half of them or finding them on the ground rotting under the plants.

  • 5. Maggie  |  September 19, 2008 at 11:12 am

    I want to join! Are they an annual? The pie looks wonderful!

  • 6. Maggie  |  September 19, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    Well, the second Maggie will comment! I got my first pint of these a week ago. I chocolate dipped about half for a light ending to a dinner party, and we ate the rest over the next couple days. They are fun to eat and delicious. Thanks for a good recipe; they’re hrad to find.

  • 7. fallenangel65  |  September 19, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    I have never heard of these before but, as always, you always leave me inspired to try new things and to try to figure out a way to get a garden going in my all of my clay. I wonder if they would make a good chutney or salsa.

  • 8. Matriarchy  |  September 19, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    I live in Berks County, right next to Lancaster, and I’ve never seen these. I am definitely going to go looking, and see if I can scrounge some seeds for next year.

  • 9. nearlynormalized  |  September 19, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    My mouth was watering reading…Are they regional cherries? Do they grow West of the Missiissippi?

  • 10. shwankie  |  September 19, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    I grew these several years ago when I owned a house and had a backyard I turned into a park-ish garden. I loved them! Thank you for bringing back the good memories, and reminding me that I want to plant some more when I move to a place with a real yard again.

  • 11. Jennie  |  September 20, 2008 at 7:45 am

    De – Sorry to hear you are still having trouble with your tomatillo. Sharp’s comment may be the cause. I’m not sure as I’ve never had trouble getting mine to set fruit. Then again, I’ve grown these in a farm setting with dozens of plants. I’ve never trellised them. If you plant them close enough together, they hold each other up. If you’re willing to give them another shot, try four plants next year in a square, planted about a foot apart and with a little “fence” of twine around their perimeter for some support in case a strong wind comes along. If they are getting too busy on you, just selectively prune a wayward branch here and there – it won’t hurt the plant at all and often actually increases the quantity and quality of its fruit. Hope that helps! 🙂

  • 12. Jennie  |  September 20, 2008 at 7:51 am

    Lisa – I grew mine from seed that I purchased from Victory Seeds, a great heirloom/rare seed company. Here’s the link:

    They were extremely easy to germinate and then effortless plants to grow. I’d highly recommend giving them a try if you have a garden. For a family of four, 3-5 plants would be more than enough. One thing I learned though is that they should be staked or tied up after they reach full height (about 3″) as they eventually start to flop as they start producing heavily. I hope you give them a try! 🙂

  • 13. Jennie  |  September 20, 2008 at 7:54 am

    Maggie & Maggie –

    Yes, they are an annual, very fast growing, and produce fruit from early August until frost.

    I love the idea of covering them in chocolate!!! I am definitely going to give that a try…did you use milk chocolate or dark or white? Hope you can find some more to try the pie.

  • 14. Jennie  |  September 20, 2008 at 7:56 am

    Fallen Angel – Glad to be of service. 🙂 Yup, I am definitely making salsa with them. I’m now contemplating ice cream too…

  • 15. Jennie  |  September 20, 2008 at 7:59 am

    Nearly Normalized – I would not consider these a regional crop…from all the references online to them, it looks like folks as far west and and north as Portland are finding them in their local farmer markets so I’m sure you could grow them. If you’ve grown tomatoes, I’m 99% sure you can grow a ground cherry in the same manner/location. 🙂

    Shwankie – Where did you grow yours? I’ll cross my fingers you get a spot to grow them again!

  • 16. Andrea  |  September 20, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    I saw these today at the farmers market and I passed them up! Now I’m kicking myself and planning a return visit. Thanks for a wonderful and informative post!

  • 17. Andrea  |  September 20, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    By the way, I love your blog, and I’ve added it to my sidebar!

  • 18. Kelly  |  September 21, 2008 at 12:00 am

    These are also known as “gooseberries” and are (I think) a common dessert fruit in England. That’s where I first tried them – they’re delicious! I wonder where I could locate them around here . . . Thanks for reminding me of this undervalued fruit!

    • 19. Juli  |  May 30, 2020 at 7:42 pm

      Ground/husk cherries are not the same as gooseberries. Ground cherries are golden little orbs, about 1/3 to1/2 the size of green or red gooseberries.

  • 20. Lisa  |  September 21, 2008 at 12:47 am

    These are not the same as gooseberries that are commonly used in desserts which are Ribes uva-crispa. But you are close in that the ones pictured above are called Cape Gooseberries (physalis), because they were cultivated on the Cape of Good Hope ( apparently ) in the 1800’s.

    This little fruit grows very commonly here in my home town ( Dunedin New Zealand ) although now, not many people would know what to do with it. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

  • 21. De in D.C.  |  September 22, 2008 at 12:59 am

    Thanks for the advice/commiseration Sharp and Jennie. I grew two tomatilla plants and used the same trellis system I do for tomatoes (wire fencing, hooked horizontally onto posts). I have to say that they are massive plants; easily 8’x8′ each! I was expecting something more akin to a tomato, lol.

    I’ll try doing 4 plants next year and I’ll give them the entire 5’x6′ bed that they’re in now (currently sharing it with hot peppers and basil) and forgo the trellis to see how it things go.

  • 22. Hopp  |  September 22, 2008 at 9:09 am

    My ground cherries are going wild too… and I’m going to have lots of new plants in the spring…

  • 23. stephenny  |  September 22, 2008 at 10:16 am

    Hi There, I stumbled across this post and just want you to know that your photography is beautiful! I am very eager to look into this fruit and see if it’s able to tolerate the Seattle climate. I look forward to trying out the recipe. Thanks 🙂

    • 24. Deb Robillard  |  August 22, 2009 at 9:12 am

      Hi, Stephenny

      We grow ground cherries commercially in Ontario Canada, they do very well, although we treat them as annuals, we do get a lot of volunteer plants coming up from previous years…..they grow like little weeds and are very bushy and very hardy. They are beautiful little jewels and do very well in anything I’ve tried them in, pies, preserves, salads, etc. Good luck with them!

  • 25. Jennie  |  September 22, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Hopp – Yep, from what I’ve read, ground cherries re-seed themselves readily so we’ll both probably be having plenty more next year too. I’m not complaining. 🙂

  • 26. Jennie  |  September 22, 2008 at 11:31 am

    Stephenny – Thanks for the compliment! I’ve seen blog posts from Seattle for ground cherries so I’m pretty sure you can find them at a farmers market or grow them yourself if you have that luxury. Let me know how you like them…

  • 27. Suzane Watkinson  |  September 24, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    Hey, where in Cambridge can I find them ?
    I am over near Tufts

    My grandmother grew them in upstate NY when I was little, and she moved with us to Ohio in 1960. I remember going around with her to the Ohio garden places looking for seeds for “sweet tomatoes that grow in their own paper bags” It was clear by our reception that Ohio farmers thought we were nuts, and the fact she had a thick French accent just made things worse.

    I am in an apartment and have been for years, and I gave up long ago looking for seeds.

    Thanks bunches for the recipe, soon as I find some I shall make it.

  • 28. Husky « Artsy Fartsy  |  September 30, 2008 at 10:24 am

    […] wesites recommended jams or pies, and almost everone recommended dipping them in chocolate.  I’m not all that fond of pies, […]

  • 29. Fresh Ground Cherry Salsa « Straight from the Farm  |  October 4, 2008 at 9:48 am

    […] cherries that I know you are all dying to know more about.  These funky little fruits were good in Ground Cherry Pie, but they are amazing in Ground Cherry Salsa!  It’s like Mother Nature herself had a hankering […]

  • 30. genghiskuhn  |  July 12, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    Just found this- cranked a pie out this evening with this recipe and it’s amazing. The peach is a brilliant touch.

  • 31. Jane Miller  |  September 13, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    I live in northern Illinois near the Wisconsin border and have eaten groundcherries all my life. My parent grew them and now I do. I am wondering where to buy plants though as we have had a blight around here on the ground cherries and are wanting to start some from new plants. Love the pie, have been making it for 60 years but will try the open crust recipe, it sounds great. Thanks again.

  • 32. Jenny  |  September 20, 2014 at 8:35 am

    My husband and I visit a place over in Ohio about 4 times a year, which is filled with lot’s of Amish. One of the baked shops we visit sells “Ground Cherry” fry pies. My husband is Addicted to these babies. I was so excited to find your recipe, that we are going back to the bake shop to buy just the ground cherries so I can go home and make him A Pie. He will Love me to death if it turns out as well as those little fry pies that he gobbles down during our stay in Amish country.

  • […] Ground Cherry Pie […]

  • […] Ground Cherry Pie ~ With just a bit of nutmeg and lemon zest, the ground cherry flavor will really shine through in this pie. […]

  • 35. Juan Arrivillaga  |  November 16, 2019 at 8:13 pm

    Known worldwide as Physallis or golden berry, this exotic fruit (it’s not a veggie) is found in most supermarkets at UK and Europe countries. It provides a lot of antioxidants in a delicious flesh mixed with its very small seeds. It´s sold fresh, and it´s expensive. Also dried or in jams and chocolate covered as a candy. A very common fruit in South America. Most comments in this article were posted more than 10 years ago…I wonder why?

  • 36. Donica M Robinson  |  July 18, 2020 at 6:09 pm

    I’m in zone 4 and a patch of plants that look very much like these just started appearing in front of my house over the past year. Does this plant only grow if you plant it, or could it be wild. Moreover, does this have a poisonous doppelganger that I should avoid tossing in a pie?


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