Mysteries of The Ground Cherry

Related to tomatoes, the golden fruit drops to the ground when ripe. Remove husks, and enjoy! Seeds for this tasty variety are in stock now at Lehman's in Kidron, Ohio, and Lehmans.com.

Above, nicely ripened ground cherries.  Seeds for this tasty heirloom are in stock now at Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio, and Lehmans.com.

Ground cherries? I don’t mean cherries processed for jams or preserves, not at all. I mean a species of Physalis pruinosa, an heirloom variety that produces tiny golden sweet fruit.

Related to the tomato and tomatillo, and native to the cooler regions of North America, ground cherries ripen in about 70 days after the plants set fruit. Their papery husks turn brown, and the fruit drops to the soil. Gather the fruit, husk them, and you have a treat waiting for you!The fruit can be handled just like tomatoes, although they tend to be much sweeter, and more delicate than the average cherry or grape tomato. Use ground cherries to make chutneys, relish, or other preserves.These easy-care plants are perfect for beginning or experienced gardeners, although those in cooler regions may want to start the seeds inside in plantable peat pots or newspaper ‘pots’ made with The Potmaker.

Ground cherries are bushy, which means they do need some room to spread in the garden. This habit, though, makes them ideal for the children’s garden–you won’t have to worry about staking, and the youngsters will be able to easily tell if the fruit is ripe–it’ll be on the ground!

If you’re a tomato fan, and you haven’t tried ground cherries yet, what’s stopping you? They’re hardy and easy to grow. And, like other heirloom garden produce, they’re full of vitamins, minerals and a fantastic sweet-tart flavor.

They’re perfect for fresh use in quiches or other cheesy, savory dishes too. Imagine a typical cheese and spinach pie spiced up with the sweet tartness of the ground cherry—my stomach is rumbling already! I’m planning to try a plant or two in a 45-gallon planter than I have. Since they’re sprawlers, I’m just going to let the stems grow where they may, and then I’m planning on putting together chutneys and cheese-based dishes come fall. Ground cherries are a wonderful addition to vegetarian diets too, with their wonderful color and full flavor.