What’s that food?

Looking like little Chinese Lanterns (the bright orange flower often found in late summer in many PEI gardens), this month’s WTF is the simple yet sweet ground cherry.

Ground cherries in their dried husks

The reason they resemble the classic flower is because ground cherries actually belong to the same genus of plants, Physalis. A member of the Solanaceae family which includes nightshades like tomatoes, they are also closely related to tomatillos. They are sometimes referred to as Inca berry, Poha berry, Cape gooseberry, Aztec berry, golden berry, pineapple ground cherry, giant ground cherry, Peruvian ground cherry, and husk tomatoes.

Ground cherry fruits are typically bright yellow or orange, roughly the diameter of a nickel to a quarter, and grow individually in tan coloured papery husks (which are inedible). Most of the 80 to 90 species are indigenous to the Americas. At least 46 of the species are endemic to Mexico, and Columbia has a significant trade in the fruit. It is also widely cultivated in India.

As a fruit, they are crisp and sweet, with their firm yellow-orange flesh and small seedy inside (like a cherry tomato). Their flavour is often described as a blend between strawberry and pineapple. The fruit can be eaten as simply as popping one into your mouth or it can be used in salads, desserts, cooked into sauces, or used as garnishes.

Like many small fruits, ground cherries can be dried like raisins or added to jams, salsas, marmalades, and chutneys. They can be baked in pies as well as they are high in pectin. Ground cherries are called Poha in the Hawaiian language, and Poha jams and preserves are traditional desserts made from Physalis plants grown on the Hawaiian Islands.

Ground cherries store well for several weeks in their husks in paper bags in the fridge. The fruit also freezes well, simply wash and pop whole ones into the freezer.

Grown in warm climates, ground cherries grow well in poor soil but do require plenty of moisture. Plants are started by seed and fruit will begin to ripen about 70 days after transplanting. Plants are susceptible to many of the common tomato diseases and pests but each plant can produce several hundred little fruit.

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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