Would you look at those beauties? I grew those little lanterns from seed that I purchased from Tree and Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm in Wellandport. I had never heard of these relative to the tomatillo before stumbling upon them on Linda Crago’s website. I was instantly intrigued, especially by the fact that they are extremely productive.
According to the seed packet, ground cherries have been around since the early 19th Century. The variety I am growing, one of the most popular, is Aunt Molly’s variety. The earliest recording of this fruit was 1837 in Pennsylvania. This Polish variety is prized for its clean flavour.
The flavour is quite unique. It tastes like a pineapple crossed with a grape. It is sweet with a hint of citrus. It is delicious.
Plants can grow to 18 inches tall and 24 inches wide, so they will need quite a bit of space in your garden. I grew mine in a square, raised bed garden that also include caped gooseberries, raspberries and blueberries (both of which now have to be moved because of these beasts). Next year, I think I will move them to a raised row garden.
Reason for this is how you harvest the little lanterns. You don’t actually pick the ground cherries, you collect those that have fallen from the branches. They will be a pale yellow at this point and the husk will be papery. I have read that they can be stored for as long as three months in a cellar if they are kept in their husks. They can also be made into a variety of preserves, from jams and jellies to hot sauces and pie filling. I plan to do a fair share of ground cherry and gooseberry canning, after all, plants can produce up to 200 pounds of fruit each. And the great part, they keep on giving.
Ground cherries start fruiting by the end of July and continue until frost.
I have to admit, I was a little nervous adding a crop that I had never tasted nor heard of, but I am happy to report that ground cherries make a great addition to the homestead. So far I have only been able to harvest what you see in the top photo, but I suspect I will soon have enough to make my first preserves.