I love discoveries. So when I heard about the Master Gardener-Tait Farm Tomato Tasting, I volunteered right away.

Justin, a fairly new MG with the boundless energy of a 30-something, arrived with several of his favorite heirloom tomatoes…and Ground Cherries. “They’re in the nightshade family,” he argued, explaining the science behind his rule stretching.  And personally, I love rule benders, as long as their intent is harmless.

In horticultural circles, Ground Cherries are known as Physalis pruinosa and belong to the same family as tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos. Old timers may know them as Cape Gooseberries, Husk Tomatoes or Poha Berries.  Remember The Sound of Music’s “My Favorite Things “ lyrics: ”brown paper packages tied up with string”? Well, Ground Cherries come in brown papery husk packages minus the string. Peel off the husk and you have a marble-sized, golden fruit.

Justin brought the heirloom “Aunt Molly” for everyone to try. Random tasters described the flavor as resembling melon, pineapple, kiwi, and plum.  Over the years I’ve read about Ground Cherries but never took the seed-buying plunge. We’ve all made mistakes. One taste, and another and another, and I was sold. Can’t wait to get my order placed!

One plant can produce up to 300 fruits and as they ripen, they fall onto the ground in their protective husks.  Which is a good thing, since unripe fruit (as well as leaves and stems) are toxic. Ground Cherries are native to Eastern and Central North America, low in calories and fat, contain no cholesterol, and have plenty of vitamins A and C, and niacin.

Aunt Molly, an heirloom variety from Poland (of special interest to my Wrobleski genes), is high in pectin, so it is perfect for jams, preserves, and pies. Ground Cherries can also be added to muffins, smoothies, or salsas. I’m told that the French use it to garnish desserts, and it would be an interesting addition to a fruit salad, keeping everyone guessing about the unusual, tropical flavor.

Until I have Ground Cherries to experiment with, I must share this summer’s favorite salad. I was drawn to the recipe by a photograph of a peasant-y looking woman: wrinkles, babushka (Wrobleski genes kicking in again) wrapping her gray hair, proud carriage. The headline copy says Feta & Watermelon Yiayia’s Way. I ignored the mention of an arranged marriage for a daughter and the Greek inference, but took the good stuff for my own:

Chunks of watermelon (I used my garden bounty, Katanya and Cream of Saskatchewan)

Crescent-moon slices of cucumber (Poona Kheera and Lemon Cucumber—seeded)

Chocolate (or any other) mint, chopped

Chunks of feta cheese

The first time I made this (last weekend) for guests, I mixed the watermelon, cucumbers and mint, and served the feta on the side. Everyone helped herself to the feta and raved about the combination.  So this weekend, I was daring and went the whole way.  Laurie Lynch

Happy Labor or Unlabor Day: When Richard was living with my mom and me, one of his ”jobs” was keeping the groundhog population in check with his Nonno’s shotgun.  Sometimes he even shot at them from his bedroom window, scaring the bejeezus out of his poor momma, which is what young men of that age do for a living. With Richard’s departure to Brussels in January, the groundhogs came out of hibernation early to celebrate.  Some days I’d see two or three of them frolicking together out on the lawn. Until Richard’s replacement took over.Image

Sandy III, my mom’s Golden Retriever, retrieves more than tennis balls and Frisbees.  He spies on the critters from his deck lookout and then somehow sneaks up on them and brings their fat, intestine-filled carcasses to the front door.  While Sandy is a wonderful dog, he could never truly replace Richard, who always had the common people-sense to toss the dead groundhogs into the woods.

Working Words: As backup physical office phone machine, I came across a new term, at least for me. A construction headhunter called asking for my buddy John who is in charge of our roof maintenance.  I took the message, requesting John to return the call to discuss people he knew who might be qualified for a job as a “reliability engineer”.  I had to ask the question. What is a reliability engineer?

“A maintenance supervisor.” Plain and simple.

Garden Poetry Wisdom: If it’s for fruit or seed, full sun is what you need. If it’s for leaf or root, partial sun will suit


3 thoughts on “Fleur-de-GroundCherry

  1. I love your blogs! I had watermelon salad in a NY restaurant. It had radishes, not cucumber, & maybe watercress. Loved it. Will plan to make some at your suggestion. Love to All-Ruthie

  2. Now I’ll have to look up ground cherries and see if I want to plant them.
    I also need a dog like Sandy to take care of the ground hogs that insist on living under the shed, which is right next to the garden.

  3. Radishes and watermelon…well, I just pulled several bunches of beauties, so maybe I’ll try it. I am slightly embarrassed, but I’ve been hearing from some of you that Ground Cherries have a history steeped in the Lehigh Valley. The term winter cherry was listed in the 1812 Pennsylvania German dictionary. “Juddekaersche” was the common Pennsylvania Dutch name for all members of the Physalis genus. In the 18th century, right before frost, the entire Ground Cherry plant was pulled up, roots cleaned of soil, and then hung upside down in a dry, ventilated room, thus the “winter” cherry. Aunt Molly (Aent Moll in Pennsylvania Dutch) was sold by the Walter Schell seed company in Harrisburg in the 1920s. The Lehigh County ground cherry (Lecha Jud-dakaersche in PA Dutch) is thought to have been introduced by the Moravians, brought back from South America by their missionaries in the early 19th century. It has naturalized in parts of Lehigh and Northampton counties, and the fruit ripens to an orange-brown color. That’s not all, The fascinating fruit is not only prized by the French, my daughter tells me, but it’s also used quite often by Belgian chefs! Boy, do I feel out of touch! But don’t worry, by this time next summer I’ll be teaching Ground Cherries 101! Laurie

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