Recipe: Ground cherry (Physalis) jam

This time last year, I began harvesting piles of ground cherries (also known as cape gooseberries, Physalis ‘Cossack Pineapple’). The tiny fruits grow in a husk, like the tomatillos to which they are related. When the husk turns dry and brittle and the fruits are golden without a hint of green, they’re ripe and ready to eat. They’ll often fall off the bush when they’re ready, which is why they’re called “ground cherries.”

husks and fruit

Ground cherries grow encased in calyces that turn brittle when the fruit is ripe.

The plants grew exponentially in the hot weather and set fruit faster than I could pick it. But, having never grown nor eaten them before–I do love an experiment–I didn’t know what to do with them. I can certainly recommend eating them like popcorn. They’re exceptionally high in vitamin C and make a terrific snack.

ground cherries physalis fruits in bowl

The peeled fruit of ground cherries (Physalis sp.).

Craving variety from eating them out-of-hand, I began experimenting with canning. Appalled by the amounts of sugar most recipes directed me to add, I turned to Pomona’s Universal Pectin, which permits the cook to cut the amount of sugar in the recipe by about half.

I began, logically, with Pomona’s recipe for Ground Cherry Jam but wanted to give it some flair. Taking a cue from recipes I’ve seen combining stone fruits and rich spices (cinnamon plum, vanilla peach, etc.), and inspired by another combination I saw online once but can no longer find, I split open a bag of chai tea (yes, redundant) and dumped the leaves into the pot in Step 5 of Pomona’s recipe, when the fruit is brought to a boil (I added the tea, then the pectin mixture). The leaves and spices were finely ground, but you may break the bag into a ramekin and sift out larger pieces before adding it to the jam, if you wish.

I stirred it well, then proceeded to fill the jars and boil as directed.

physalis jam

The finished product.

It is absolutely delicious; a lovely combination of bright citrus and smoky spice.

Garden log, 3.11.15

Moved two blueberry bushes today. They’re loaded with buds, so I might have planned the timing of this project a bit better, but I hope this new location will be, um, fruitful.

Moved and divided Christmas ferns yesterday. Amazed at how brilliantly these plants grew with absolutely no help from me. Now they’re in a spot where they’ll get more attention. Can’t wait to see what becomes of them next.

On a walk-around late this afternoon, I spotted this:



Do you know what these wormy little things are? The unfurling leaf buds of Sanguinaria canadensis, also known as bloodroot. One of my very favorite spring epherals. It’s a bit early for them, I think, but I am glad to see them anytime.

Dear Friend and Gardener: August 1, 2014

Dear Friend and Gardener,

How on earth can it be August? The summer is flying by, and I must start thinking about my fall garden. Already I am somewhat behind (what else is new?).

This past week I planted baby bush lima beans and pulled out the ‘Contender’ bush beans. The flea beetles abused the ‘Contenders’ horribly; next year I’ll do a better job of protecting them at the outset. I have two small eggplant growing, but something’s making eyelet out of the leaves. I do hate to spray but it may be time to pull out the neem oil. Oh, how it smells!

flea beetle damage beans

Flea beetle damage on ‘Contender’ bush beans

The tomatoes, however, are performing well. We’ve had cooler weather lately, in the mid-80s, which means the plants have a better chance of setting fruit. While the fruits do taste better when they ripen hot, I have to wonder, how hot is hot? What’s the optimal temperature for good-tasting tomatoes? The other challenging factor is that we’ve had lots of rain. I have to really keep an eye out and harvest the ripened fruits before they split.

I got my first fig on Wednesday! It was, I tell you, the best fig I have ever eaten. Do you grow figs? I intend to plant another one this fall because I have heard that they set better when there is another fig close by. And I also have ambitions to grow some more blueberries. Well, I have lots of ambitions.

One of my lingonberries died during a heat wave but the other is chugging along nicely. I’m starting kale this weekend and some lettuce as well. I should make room for carrots, garlic, and shallots. I’m fortunate to be able to harvest food year-round here, if I get organized in late summer and through the fall. How long is your harvest season?

Hope the weather is treating you well and the late blight stays at bay.

Best,

Amy

 

Tropical punch: Ground cherries offer strong flavor in a tiny bite.

ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa)

Related to tomatoes, and more closely to tomatilloes, the ground cherry (Physalis pruinosa) goes by many names, including ground tomatoes, husk cherries, and cape gooseberries.

The fruits grow under the plant’s large leaves, encased in a thin calyx that dries to a crispy, papery husk. The husk and fruit fall to the ground when they are ripe (hence the name).

husks and fruit

Ground cherries grow encased in calyces that turn brittle when the fruit is ripe.

Large fruits measure about the size of an adult woman’s thumbnail, with a texture resembling a firm grape, and taste strongly of pineapple. I look forward to experimenting with them in cooking, if I can stop eating them by the handful, like popcorn.

In my Zone 7b garden, I transplanted seedlings about one month after the average last frost, or mid-May, and got my first fruits about six weeks later. This plant does like it hot–it seemed to double in size every day the temperature hit 90 degrees or higher.

For those who practice permaculture, this plant seeds itself easily and seems to require no inputs except for hot sunshine and whatever rain may fall. Do allow space for them–halfway through the growing season, mine are five feet tall and wide–or were, before the 8-year-old ran over a few inconvenient stems with a bicycle. The stems are rigid but not woody, a bit like basil in mid-season, and may crack or break under their own weight. Because my space is limited (and shared with bicycles), my plants are now supported with slings of garden twine, tethered to a bamboo pole.  You could perhaps grow lettuce beneath them, or root vegetables, if you wished to implement companion planting.

This is a fruit that has made it into my garden’s permanent rotation. I’ll share recipes later in the summer–assuming I can quit snacking.

ground cherries physalis fruits in bowl

Dear Friend and Gardener: June 27, 2014

Dear Friend and Gardener,

It was another hot and dry week in the garden. I fed the beans with some nettle tea to perk them up. I’m starting to see flea beetle damage but the plants are big enough to be able to withstand it, I think. I have also sown a second crop elsewhere in the garden in case these do surrender their fight before long.

The tomatoes are showing signs of ripening, particularly the Principe Borgheses. I am so ready for them! I love dried tomatoes, particularly in the dead of winter, but have never tried drying any of my own. Another kitchen adventure awaits. The basil tastes splendid and there is plenty of it.

I noticed a little mildew on one of my honeyberries the other day. I shall spray it with a little milk spray if it gets truly bad, but I’m willing to let a lot go for the sake of avoiding toxic sprays. It doesn’t look terrible unless you get up close, and if you get that close, well, you shouldn’t be walking on my garden beds to begin with.

I transplanted a few Blue Hubbard squash seedlings sown from the packets I got at the seed library. I have heard that nasturtiums planted with squash will help deter squash bugs. Do you know if this is true?

Hope your garden is giving you joy and lots of tomatoes.

Best,

Amy