Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ground Cherries; Kid Food In The Garden

Meet the Ground Cherry - Physalis pruinosa

Have you ever eaten a ground cherry before?  I recommend you try them if you haven't. They are becoming more popular again and are in my opinion one of the more delightful kid-friendly veggies we can grow in our gardens.

Sweet fruit with a complex flavor

These interesting plants have been grown in American gardens for nearly two centuries and were first documented in 1837 in Pennsylvania.  However it is only recently they have been rediscovered and have again found favor with gardeners.  Native Americans and the settlers loved them and they were important enough for settlers to bring seeds with them across the Oregon Trail.  Actually, until I became interested in plants the pioneers brought across the Oregon Trail I hadn't heard of them before.

Ground Cherry is closely related to tomatoes and has just a hint of that relationship in its flavor which is a complex mixture of sweet pineapple, vanilla, ripe plum and tomato, (hard to describe but so good).  The plants produce an abundance of small fruit that look like miniature tomatillo, another close cousin.

Ready for little hands to gather up.

When the fruit is ready to be harvested the husk turns a ripe wheat color, the little stems let go of the branch and the ripe fruit falls to the ground in its little protective husk...thus the name ground cherry.   There is no question as to when the fruit is ripe that way and that papery husk protects the fruit from the soil like a candy wrapper making it perfect kid food!

Look Ma!  No dirt!
Husks make little handles.
What fun!

Ground cherries can be used in pies, preserves, salsas or chutney and best of all eaten fresh and warm from the summer garden.

Seeds for next year?  Sure why not!

If you want to save seed for next year here's a little photo tutorial to help you along.
Smash fruit in water in a dish

Seeds are sticky, water is a must.

After a few rinses just seeds and water left.
Pour onto a couple of coffee filters to dry.

Coffee filters work best to wick away the water from the seeds so they dry quickly.  Be sure the seeds are kept in the shade while drying.  I put mine on my kitchen counter near the window but not in sunlight to dry.

When the seeds are dry you can package them up in little seed envelopes you can create yourself or use #1 coin envelopes like I do.  Store them in a dark, dry, cool place until time to sow for next year.

Speaking of sowing...these plants will self sow in moderate to warm climates if fruit is left on the ground, just like cherry tomatoes.  The seedlings transplant easily so either way, whether you collect and save seed or just leave the fruit on the ground, you can have more plants for next year and probably some to share with your garden pals.

Happy Gardening!

Copyright © 2011 by Patty Hicks
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