One of the things we try to do here at Belle Creek Gardens is make sure that in every week, we include something sweet and fruity in CSA shares. Some years, that’s harder than others. We try to start out strong with berries, and end with apples and pears (if the trees and pests cooperate), but it gets a little tougher in late July. By that time most years, our berries are done producing and the tree fruits aren’t ripe yet. Cherry tomatoes are almost sweet enough to fill the fruit gap, but if you’re looking for a healthy treat that’s a little sweeter, consider the ground cherry!
Ground cherries are a member of the nightshade (solanaceae) plant family which includes tomatoes, potatoes, tobacco, peppers, eggplant and a few toxic species like deadly nightshade. Within the nightshade family is a group (a genus) of plants that produce fruits wrapped in papery husks, including Chinese lanterns (not edible), tomatillos, and ground cherries.
Ground cherries (so named because they fall to the ground when ripe) go by many other names, including husk cherry, cape gooseberry, and strawberry tomato. But whatever you call them, they are delicious! They have an almost tropical flavor, like a sweeter, fruitier version of a cherry tomato which means they lend themselves well to both sweet and savory applications in the kitchen. The papery husk should always be removed before consuming ground cherries.
If you’re not yet familiar with ground cherries, here are a few of our favorite ways to eat them.
Note: We find that the flavor of ground cherries goes especially well with nuts, cream, vanilla and cinnamon in sweet applications, but can also be used in more savory dishes that include poultry, creamy cheeses, or fresh basil.
- Slice them in half and put them in a sandwich. Karl likes them in peanut butter sandwiches in place of jelly. I like them in an open-faced sandwich with goat cheese, a bit of finely chopped basil, and a drizzle of honey on toasted sourdough.
- Add them to salads. They’re delicious in fresh salads that feature cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs, pecans or walnuts, and make a tasty addition to chicken salads too.
- Cook them down into a simple sauce. Ground cherries have a decent amount of pectin in them, so they cook into a nicely textured sauce. A bit of sugar or honey, a splash of water, and some ground cherries cook down into a lovely golden sauce for ice cream, yogurt parfaits, or pancakes. Add a little cinnamon for extra flavor.
- Bake them in a pie! When I first met Karl’s late grandmother, I brought her a freshly baked ground cherry and raspberry pie. It was my own recipe and I was excited and nervous to show it off. The pie was a hit, and had her exclaiming “I’m so glad she bakes pies!” Since the full pie requires several cups of ground cherries, I’ve adapted it here so you can try making a mini version with the amount of ground cherries in your share.
- Add them to salsa. If you like pineapple or mango salsa, you might also enjoy ground cherry salsa.
- Dry them. Dried ground cherries sometimes seem to take on a slightly strawberry-like flavor and they’re about as versatile as raisins.
- Top peanut butter cookies or bars with whole or sliced ground cherries. We love the taste of ground cherries and peanut butter. The only down side of adding them to cookies and bars is that they can make things a little extra gooey – if that’s really a downside.