Cultivating A Taste For Ground Cherry Pie

  • on February 14, 2009
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Ingrients & Directions

4 c Ground cherries
1/2 c Sugar
2 ts Quick cooking tapioca
Handful all-purpose flour
Juice of 1 large lemon
Pastry for a double-crust
-9-inch pie
2 tb Butter

One of the joys of making a kitchen garden is getting to grow and
taste new and unusual varieties of vegetables.

Unfamiliar vegetables are like unfamiliar people. They take time to
get to know. Lack of understanding can lead to mistakes takes. So I
put most of my energy into growing my own garden tested favorites,
and limit the number of unfamiliar varieties in each garden to just
one or two.

Elusive Habits: One year I tried ground cherries, Physalis pruinosa,
which produce tiny tomato-like fruits in papery husks on low, lanky,
herbaceous bushes. I planted them in a corner of the garden that
didn’t get much traffic, and never did see them sprout, or see them
growing during the summer, either. I thought they died from neglect.

When things thinned out later in the year, I discovered that the
whole area was covered with the trailing vines of the ground
cherries, and there were enough fruits to make an intensely-flavored
and very wigged-out ground cherry pie.

Ground cherries also are known as husk tomatoes, and are a smaller,
more flavorful cousin of the tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa) used in
Mexican salsa verde. They’re also related to the Hawaiian poha
(Physalis peru viana).

They like the same conditions as tomatoes, and thus will do best in
the portions of the Bay Area that stay warmest at night. However, if
you can grow tomatoes, you can grow ground cherries, and they’re
worth a try. They always pull their disappearing act if grown among
other plants.

They like to drape their long trailing branches over their neighbors’
leaves, and run down among long grasses. Only becoming visible when
the other plants die back late in the year.

The plants are sprawling and grow about 18 inches tall. Their flowers
are inconspicuous little bells less than a half-inch long, whitish
yellow with brown spots. They set fruit sparingly until mid- season,
when they finally produce large clusters of fruit that develop inside
green ish husks. These dry when ripe to a lacy brown paper. The
fruits are green and unpalatable until ripe, when they turn a rich
golden yellowish brown.

Small But Sweet: The fruits are the size of blueberries, and are
intensely sweet with a low acid finish. They’re surprisingly savory
and good for preserves, although I prefer them in a
once-every-five-years version of ground cherry pie. More often than
that, and I get squeamish.

Order ground cherry seed from Nichols Garden Nursery, 1190 North
Pacific Highway, Albany, Oregon 97321. A packet plus handling charge
is $1.65. You’ll enjoy having the Nichols catalog of herbs and rare
seeds, too. [This info may be dated++the article is three years old.

Plant the seeds in the spring in an out-of-the-way part of the garden
and make sure the area is not allowed to undergo severe water stress.
Ground cherries are hardy, but not drought-proof. They’ll grow in
any good garden soil.

If you can avoid eating them all out of hand, try the pie. Jeff Cox,
a Bay Area resident, an editor and writer for Rodale Press and author
of several gardening books.

Directions Gently mix together. ground cherries, sugar, tapioca,
flour and lemon juice. Let stand for 15 minutes while you line a
9-inch pie pan with half of the pastry.

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Turn the fruit, mixture into the pastry-
lined pan, and dot the top with the butter. Cover with a well-pricked
top crust or lattice work of dough.

Bake at 450F for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350F and bake for
another 40 minutes, or until golden brown.

San Francisco Chronicle, 12/7/88.

1 Servings

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