The two center life around Bramasole, their restored farmhouse and extensive gardens, vineyard and olive grove, they find time to take daytrips to Italian villages, country wineries, and regional festivals. On a winter day they may hit the road in search of Renaissance frescoes or special wines or cheeses. So, I told my mother that after our normal Friday morning chores, we were going on an adventure in quest of ground cherries.
Since last newsletter, readers let me know that ground cherries have a Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, with specific emphasis on the Lehigh Valley, where they were called “juddekaersche”.
We’ve got the Amish farms of Brush Valley, Penns Valley, and Big Valley to choose from, but I had an insider tip, so we went out Route 45 to Penns Valley. One of the vendors at the Lemont Farmers Market told me she thought there were ground cherries growing in the Penns Valley Learning Garden at the Millheim American Legion.
We found the garden. There were bees sipping nectar from scarlet runner bean blossoms and proof that this summer, even boulders sprout weeds. We searched and searched, but no ground cherries. This whet my appetite for them even more than when I found out their name in French is “cerises de terre” and saw cute garnishing photos with the husk peeled back, golden orbs with angel wings.
So we drove on to Aaronsburg, turned down a lane and soon had to pull off the road to allow an on-coming buckboard wagon to pass. I rolled down my window. The young woman’s smile was as broad as her bonnet, but, no, she didn’t know anyone who sold ground cherries.
“Organic Produce” was the next sign we spotted and we drove back another dusty lane. I had visions of a thick slice of toast smeared with fresh goat cheese, halved ground cherries and a drizzle of honey. This young woman had squat red bell peppers and Candy onions but looked at me as if I were “not from around these parts” when I asked for ground cherries.
We headed back to Millheim and parked on Main Street. Brunch was calling. The Inglebean Coffee House had ginger iced tea, egg and pepper jack cheese bagels, and lemon scones. The barista was the first “English” (as in not-Amish) we talked to all morning. Instead of a blank stare, she said, “Do you want them for preserves?” I nodded, “yes.” (To say I wanted the fruit so I could collect the seeds sounded too sinister.) “Wish I could help, but I haven’t seen any.”
OK, as we pulled out of town, I recalled a “Sweet Corn” sign. Maybe that would bring us better luck. I took a wrong turn and found a mechanic working on a beater truck. “Sweet corn is the next left,” he called out. What the heck, I asked him if he knew where I might find ground cherries. “I haven’t heard about them for a long time,” he said, shaking his head.
The Sweet Corn Stand had midnight black eggplant and a sweet corn called Avalon that was white as sand, but no golden fruit swaddled in tan papery husks. At Burkholder’s Country Market, the fellow in the produce section hadn’t a clue what ground cherries were. I didn’t have the guts to tell him that in some parts of the world the fruit is referred to as “Amour-en-Cage”—caged love, in plain English. How could he not sell that?
The search for the elusive ground cherry wasn’t a bad way to spend a morning where the blue sky seemed to each the heavens but I wasn’t ready to give up. I emailed my Master Gardener friend Justin. Could I come take a photo of your ground cherry plant and get some fruit for seed? Technology can be amazingly fast some times. Minutes later I got the response:
“I’m sorry but I pulled out the plant weeks ago. It just became too big and I had harvested all I wanted from the plant. They have all been made into jam!”
Caged and jarred love, indeed. Laurie Lynch
The Following Morning Excursion: I slipped out of the house early Saturday morning to zip down to the Bellefonte Farmers Market, which opens at 8. On home football games, I usually don’t drive anywhere until kickoff time, but I took a chance. The first table I stopped at was a farm with a CSA in Howard. I saw them, brown paper packages piled in green boxes. The label read: Pineapple Tomatillos. I asked for a taste. Mislabeled, but ground cherries at last! I didn’t blink at the $2 a half-pint price. I bought two.
Later Morning Google Excursion: OK, I love the common French name, “L’amour en cage” or “Amour-en-Cage,” for ground cherries. Did I dare Google it? Well, not the French expression, since my French is totally inadequate. I Googled “caged love,” determined to find out if there is more to the name than just a tiny morsel of sweetness hidden in its papery husk, but ready for a slew of porn sites.
The first entry related to crate training for dogs. Cracked me up! Two of my four sisters got the puppy bug this summer and are in the midst of crate training and housebreaking. I’ll eat a few Amour-en-Cage as a toast to their efforts.
Then there was some mention of Deviant Art, which I avoided. On the PoemHunter.com site I read a poem called “Caged Love” written by a retired truck driver who said he had been married “2 ½ times”. I think I’ll have to do a little idiom research with a native French speaker.
Another Italian Adventure: Marina’s middle name is Nives, her Italian great-grandmother’s name. Marina was e-chatting with an Italian classmate who noticed her middle name and commented on it. “It’s not very common nowadays but it’s very beautiful. If I’m not wrong it means ‘snow’ in Latin.”
I had always told Marina it meant “snow” in Italian, because that’s what I’d been told, and my Italian is as fluent as my French. Marina’s Italian friend said the Italian word for snow was “neve”, but that “nives” was a catholic representation of Mary, specifically “Mary Virgin of the Snow,” she told her, “like many other names in Italian that are based on Saints’ names.”
Marina wrote an email telling me of all this, and we both went to Google at the same time, reading about Our Lady of the Snows (Sanctae Mariae ad Nives in Latin), swapping what we had learned from either side of the Atlantic on the big bridge called the Internet. The legend tells of a wealthy husband and wife without heirs who prayed to the Virgin Mary to give them a sign to show them how to honor her with their riches. That night, on Aug. 5, in the midst of Rome’s sweltering summer, it snowed on Esquiline Hill, showing the couple and Pope Liberius (352-366) where to build what was to eventually become The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. On August 5, to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Snows, white rose petals are dropped from the dome of the basilica. By sheer coincidence, the birthday of Marina Nives Lynch is two days later.