Thursday, September 4, 2008

Garden Bonus: Ground Cherries

Gardening is a learning experience, that's for sure. You begin to garden in a new location, even if it's only a new location on your own property, and you're on a learning curve. I've gardened for two years in our new home, and I've had the opportunity to make plenty of mistakes and to learn a few things too.

One of the most pleasant things I've learned is that we have volunteer ground cherries in our garden. I'd heard of ground cherries and have even had them served to me once or twice in fancy restaurants. But I'd never seen the plant, and without their distinctive fruits I only recognized the small ones in our garden as weeds. So I ripped out quite a few of them. Fortunately for the ground cherries, our pumpkin patch became an impenetrable jungle for about two months. The ground cherries took their chances in there. Once the pumpkin vines died back, the ground cherries took over.

What are ground cherries, you ask? They're a plant native to North America, and as their looks indicate, they're related to the tomatillo. They produce small yellow-orange fruits inside a loose, papery, lantern-shaped husk. To me their buttery taste is reminiscent of a fig, but my husband thinks they taste sort of like a melon. Sometimes we both get hints of vanilla. Isn't it useless to try to describe the taste of a fruit to someone who's never had one? Anyway, we like them. The ripe fruits have a fair amount of sweetness, and little acidity. They seem best when the lantern husks turn from green to pale yellow and drop to the ground on their own. Their growing habit is trailing and spreading. So perhaps they might appreciate some staking.

We've got a few hardy survivor specimens of ground cherry out there. There won't be enough to do anything with them except nibble on them as they ripen. If we had more of these, I might consider drying them. Apparently they're good candidates for that treatment. I've studied the plant's appearance carefully. Next year I won't be ripping out any volunteers if I can accommodate them.


Anonymous said...

sweet! I love volunteer plants!

Unknown said...

You can purchase ground cherries from! I ordered some for my garden this year.

Kate said...

Melissa, I'm really hoping that they just volunteer again. I never got around to saving any seeds last year. But considering how many of them showed up, and how many of them my chickens ate, I feel pretty certain I can enjoy them again this year.