Ground cherries, also called Cape Gooseberries (it’s not a true gooseberry), are small husk covered, orange-ish colored fruit and are of the solanaceae family. That’s right, the tomato, tomatillo, and potato clan. Some also call them Chinese lanterns because of the papery husk. The fruit is about 1/4 inch to 3/4 inches in diameter, most being about 1/2 inch. Harvesting them is a cinch, just wait until they fall off the plant and pick them off the ground. They taste sweet with a mild pineapple taste? Almost? Maybe a little strawberry, or green apple without the tartness. I know the description is less than helpful but it really is a taste to experience. As with many who have tasted ground cherries you will not be disappointed.
We planted about eighteen Aunt Molly’s variety plants grown from seeds bought through
Seed Savers Exchange. (Update! The seeds are from Hudson Valley Seed Library.) The plant is prolific, let me be blunt, the darn thing will spread to three to four feet across. So you can imagine how eighteen of them look in our garden. It goes without saying we have and abundance of ground cherries this year, and the harvest is not over. We have about 14 cups frozen and another twenty four or more on the plants. Fortunately, they are delicious so the excess fruit will not go to waste.
One of the cool things about them is if kept out of light and away from heat they’ll keep for three or four weeks. Our last picking was left on the covered deck for almost two weeks and they were fine. We had some on the kitchen counter as a test for two weeks. Sturdy little buggers they are. As a bonus they freeze quite well.
Now comes the hard part. If you are going to use them in any quantity they are time consuming to get out of the husk. If you are going to pop a handful for munching it’s not much of a problem. But to de-husk six cups for a pie or jam you’re going to want to a helper. The ironic part is the cherry comes right out of the husk with just a squeeze of the stem end. Quick enough unless you are working on a peck basket full of them. But like I said, the good things rarely come easy.
Anyway, I’ve got six cups of ground cherries and I’m sure as heck not letting them go to waste. So I decided to make jam. Which I guess is a little weird because ground cherries are somewhere in between sweet and savory. The finished product is a conundrum. It’s easily one of the tastiest preserves I’ve made but where to use it is somewhat up in the air. As a jam it’s incredible and I think it would be a great addition to a fish dish somehow. Here is the recipe.
(I use Pomona’s Pectin because it allows you to cut the processed sugar to almost nil. I’ll do a post on Pomona’s soon to introduce you to this incredible product. With Pomona’s you must make sure you mix the calcium water mix to the hot pot then add the pectin/sweetener.)
- 6 cups hulled ground cherries
- ½ cup water
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- ½ cup mild flavored honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Have your jars and boiling water canner ready prior to starting the canning process.
- Cook the ground cherries in ½ cup of water until they break open. Use a potato masher to help along. Add the lemon juice. and cook for 10 minutes
- Puree the ground cherries in a food processor or with a stick blender
- Mix the sweetener (honey or sugar) with the Pomona's Pectin powder thoroughly. Set aside.
- Add the vanilla and Pomona's calcium water stirring to mix well. Then stir in the pectin/sweetner and bring to a roiling boil for two minutes or as stated on the Pomona's Pectin instructions.
- Process into glass jars and boil for 15 minutes or more in boiling water.