Taste of Childhood: The Ground Cherry

DSC_0036Have you ever had a ground cherry?  I saw some for sale at Whole Foods the other day for $4 for a little box.  A pint or a half pint or something. I have only ever had ground cherries straight from the garden and only when I was a young child and then again this summer. I grew up way out in the country so we always had a garden. Although it probably isn’t real, one of my first memories is of sitting in the garden eating ground cherries. It’s just a flash of leaves dappled with sunlight, the feeling of being surrounded and hidden – cozy, and the taste of the cherry. It came back to me as soon as I tasted one again in my mom’s garden. The taste is mildly sweet with some kind of tomatoey essence.  Like if a tomato was trying to imitate a pineapple. It’s really a kind of adult flavor because it isn’t so obviously sweet like the stuff kids typically like, but Margot loves them just like I did.

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Although, the ground cherry isn’t a fruit I can see myself ever craving like I crave strawberries and raspberries and blood oranges because it is so unassuming, it is a singularly pleasant fruit to eat. There is more to it than just the flavor. There is a kind of ritual to opening the husk. The one in the picture is just primo, really, unfortunately I never have the patience to let them get to that point. That one was hidden behind some weeds when I finally found it. Usually, the husk has turned a brownish yellow and rustles like old leaves when you tear into it. When we are eating them outside there will be a trail of discarded husks across the grass.

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Although the color and condition of the husk gives a good indication of the ripeness of the cherry the unveiling of the fruit is part of the ceremony.  Will it be still a little green, or lightly orange? Orange is better, sweeter, but I still eat them a little green because I don’t have the patience.  Now especially they will be eaten because Margot is right there while I pick them and she has no understanding of degrees of ripeness.  She pops it into her mouth (after I bite them in half for her first) and immediately points back to the plant for more.  She was devouring them faster than I could find them last night.  It is only a matter of time before she discovers how to pick them herself.  She already picks cherry tomatoes and smashes them like the hulk (it’s ok because I don’t love them and the plant was a volunteer so it is strong enough to withstand her assaults).  Tomatoes are for sure too adult of a taste for her since she gags when she puts the smashed pulp in her mouth.  I think she will be much more gentle with her beloved ground cherries when she starts picking them.

We mostly eat them out by the plant in the garden, but there are recipes you can make with them. I only have the one plant that produces a couple ripe cherries at a time so I haven’t made any. Ground cherries are so summery and private to me, that I can’t see any reason to make a recipe with them. Maybe if I had a lot of plants, or got a bunch in a CSA allotment or something I would try one for the adventure, but otherwise I want to eat them one at a time as is. It would be a treat to have a bowl full of really ripe ones.  Maybe someday Margot and I will have the patience to leave them alone long enough for that to happen.

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