Tuesday, September 8, 2009

At Least Someone's Enjoying Aunt Molly's Ground Cherries!

I first tasted ground cherries (also know as husk cherries or Cape Gooseberries) when I got a bag of them in my CSA a few years ago. I had no idea what these curious berries that came in their own little wrapper were, but I figured they had to be edible sitting there in amongst all the other fruit and vegetables the farmers had packed in the box. So I unwrapped one and popped the little apricot-colored fruit into my mouth. The taste was unlike any other fruit I'd ever had: it was slightly sweet and tart, but with wonderful overtones of custard. I had to have more!! Luckily they were selling them at the Farmers' Market that year, so I managed to have a few more tastings until they were just a sweet memory.

After I'd discovered what they were I found the seeds for an heirloom variety, Aunt Molly's Ground Cherries, in the Seed Savers Exchange catalog, and had to try growing them for myself. I carefully planted my ground cherry seedlings in the same raised bed the tomatoes and eggplants were in since they're all similar plants requiring similar growing conditions. Of course I had no idea how ground cherries grow, other than the description in the catalog, so how was I to know these monsters would eventually take over the entire bed??! Just two plants, and the poor eggplants were totally covered by the ever-expanding branches. I ignored the recommendation for landscape fabric in the catalog description, thinking it was just for weed control. It wasn't. Ground cherries got their name for a reason: when they're ripe they fall to the ground. Having landscape fabric under the plants would make harvesting them off the ground much cleaner and easier.

Despite the lack of landscape fabric I was able to harvest a fair number of them in the beginning, and the papery husks protect the berry inside from getting dirty. And if you leave the husks on they store for a long time a room temperature, so you can "stock up" enough to eventually make a pot of jam or a dessert from them. Unfortunately for me, however, "somebody" else at the garden has discovered the ground cherries. By the time I get to the garden to harvest them, the little husks are all empty! And the little hoarder leaves the empty husks in piles all around the garden, just to mock me! Sigh. I was tempted to pull the plants out, just out of spite (and to give my eggplants a last gasp of hope), but I didn't have the heart to deprive the little critter his treats. Luckily I put in a couple of plants at home too, so I've been able to have a few ground cherries for myself.