Thursday, March 31, 2011
What are ground cherries? Ground cherries are a delightful bite-size fruit that has a taste, which is somehow a combination of vanilla, pineapple, strawberries, grapes and tomatoes with very mild acidity. Totally weird? Yes. Delicious? Yes! The Aunt Molly variety is particularly delightful.
Ken Green from Hudson Valley Seed Company says, “Many people asked me why they are not more commonly known. Although they have great flavor and are easy to grow, they are not well suited to mechanical harvesting and grocery store shelf life. They are, however, perfect for the grazing gardener.” This is precisely why the Hudson Valley Seed Library is so important, and why partners Doug Muller and Ken Greene, the founders of the seed library, emphasize saving and maintaining heirloom seed varieties and the heritage of our agricultural past.
“Most of our varieties are rooted in the history and soils of New York or are chosen because they do well here.” Muller says, “Every year we plan on growing additional varieties on the Seed Library farm in Accord, NY and contracting with organic and certified naturally grown farmers in the Hudson Valley and upstate New York to grow even more varieties.” Aunt Molly Ground Cherries and other heirloom seeds are available from www.seedlibrary.org and at local independent garden centers, like Victoria Gardens in Rosendale, NY.
How to grow: Ground cherries (Physalis sp.) are a member of the nightshade family, related to tomatoes and tomatillos, and enjoy similar growing conditions. Start your seeds inside the last week in March and transplant at least two plants to ensure pollination in mid-spring into a full sun spot in your garden or containers. Growers recommend either staking the plant to keep the fruit laden plant off the ground or trimming the plants in half after flowering for better production. Ground Cherries thrive in the heat. Treat them as annuals, but like tomatoes, you may get some volunteer seedlings the following year.
How to harvest: The green husks hanging from your Aunt Molly ground cherries will turn tan, and then when the fruit is finally ripe they will…you got it…fall on the ground! We suggest laying two old sheets under the plants when the husks are changing colors, then every couple days, just grab the corners and collect the fruit by bucketful!
How to store: Ground cherries still wrapped in their natural brown husks can be stored in a bowl on the counter for several weeks. Once peeled, the golden yellow fruit will keep in the refrigerator for one or two weeks. You can also freeze the unwrapped fruit on trays overnight and then store them in Ziploc bags the freezer. You can also use a dehydrator and store the dried fruit in airtight containers.
How to eat: We like them sun-warmed right off the ground from the garden, but you can also use them in jam, chutneys, fruit crumbles or pies. You can also toss them whole into green salads with almonds and balsamic vinaigrette, or chop them into a spicy sweet salsa.
See recipe below:
Aunt Molly’s Sweet and Spicy Ground Cherry Salsa
1/2 pint of Aunt Molly ground cherries
2 tbsp chopped red onion
1 Jimmy Nardello red sweet pepper diced
1 tsp Matchbox spicy or or jalapeño pepper diced
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped pineapples or peaches
Cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper to taste
Peel the tan husks off the ground cherries, and rinse the golden yellow fruit. Slice each ground cherry in half. Mix in a bowl with red onion, red pepper, Matchbox or jalapeño pepper, oil, and either ½ cup of chopped pineapples or peaches. Toss together. Tear or chop cilantro leaves and stir into the mixture. Finally salt and pepper to taste, and serve with tortilla chips or use as a topping for quesadillas, white fish, or chicken.
Seeds for growing Aunt Molly ground cherries, Jimmy Nardello red sweet pepper, Matchbox spicy pepper, Tam jalapeño pepper, and many more heirloom vegetables are available from the Hudson Valley Seed Library at www.seedlibrary.com or at independent garden centers, like Victoria Gardens in Rosendale, NY www.victoriagardens.biz.