Ground cherries are tomatillo's sweet northern cousin. They grow on a low, spreading bush.
The ripe berries fall to the ground, and can be scooped up easily- no picking, just picking up.
I planted the Aunt Molly's variety of ground cherry. They are prolific, and taste a little like a mild pineapple with a hint of banana when very ripe.
I've heard that settlers planted ground cherries as a sweet fruit that bore each summer until the fruit trees matured. And there are different kinds of ground cherries that grow wild all over the US midwest. There are some wild ones that grow each year along my fence line, but they ripen late and are not as sweet as this variety.
My ground cherry plants are loaded this year, so I've been saving them to get enough to make ground cherry preserves for the first time. While I've grown these several times before, we've always eaten them as quickly as they fall, so this was a first for me. Not unsurprisingly, modern ground cherry recipes are somewhat rare. The one I tried came from Food.com, a recipe from a 1947 cookbook.
- 3 pints husk tomatoes (ground cherry fruits)
- 3 cups water
- 1 1⁄2 cups sugar
- 1⁄3 cup lemon juice
I picked up the fruits for several days to have enough for a half recipe. Luckily, ground cherries will stay fresh on the counter for weeks, as long as the husk is intact. Theoretically you could pick ground cherries in September, and they would still be good for fresh eating on Thanksgiving. But at my house they get eaten within minutes, so I can't say from my own experience that this is true.
A basket full of ground cherries became 3 cups of fruit after removing the paper husks. Boiled in a sugar syrup for about 30 minutes, the fruit fell apart and became translucent. Seeds that I didn't notice in the raw fruit became apparent (but even in the finished preserves the seeds don't leave a noticeable taste or texture.) They thickened, and I poured them into small jars, and then processed them in a water bath for 10 minutes. A half recipe made 2 half pints plus a smaller jar of pretty, golden, preserves with an old fashioned taste.