Last year, I planted one small ground cherry plant in my garden. I saw it in the Seed Saver’s catalog and thought it sounded kind of interesting. This is the description they provided:
Longtime SSE member Suzanne Ashworth got this ground cherry seed from a young woman who lived in an apartment and was unable to grow the seeds which she had gotten from her deceased grandmother. Most of the seeds were long past germination, but Suzanne was able to grow 3 plants, and from that near extinction, this variety is now widely available. Easy to grow, prolific, and super sweet. Can be used for preserves, pies, over ice cream, or in fresh fruit salads. The ½-¾” fruits are encased in a papery husk that turns brown when the fruits ripen. Stores 3-4 weeks in the husk. Productive plants have a sprawling habit. 70 days from transplant.
It’s a relative of the tomatillo plant, which also grows in a papery husk. Last year, from my one plant, I made a couple jars of jam; it had a sweet, sort of lemony flavor with lots of tiny seeds in it.
Fast forward to this year, and I have ground cherries all over my garden. When I say all over, I mean all over! This plant spreads like a weed. Where there was room for it to grow, I left it. Where it was going to swallow up something else, I pulled it up. In the description they say it has a “sprawling habit,” which is quite accurate. It sends long branches out close to the ground so an average plant is about 3-4 feet across.
It’s getting to be time for the ground cherries to ripen and I’ve been picking some each day as the husks turn brown. I found myself in my kitchen with this bowl of pretty yellow ground cherries and also a small bowl of the last of my blackberries. In a flash of inspiration, I decided to combine the two and see what happened.
I measured and found I had about two cups of ground cherries and three cups of blackberries, for a total of five cups of fruit. From that amount I made up the following recipe, based on previous jam-making experience.
Blackberry Ground Cherry Jam
- 5 cups fruit
- 4 cups sugar
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 box powdered pectin
- Add all your ingredients to a large non-reactive pot. Turn heat to medium-high and let cook until juices begin to run. Stir frequently.
- Once there’s a fair amount of juice in with the berries, use a potato masher to crush the fruit until it’s a texture you like.
- Turn up the heat and bring to a good strong rolling boil.
- Let it cook at least a minute, stirring constantly. Check for gelling by letting the jam roll off your wooden spoon. If it rolls off in lots of drops it’s not done. If it rolls to the center and drips off as one, it’s done.
- Remove from heat and skim off foam if you need to.
- Fill jars and process 5 minutes in a water bath (10 minutes for larger jelly jars).
I’ve heard you can also use ground cherries in salsa so look out for that next. Have you ever grown ground cherries? How did you use them?