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.

A quick garden postcard: fresh January salad (and recipe)

Lettuce 'Freckles'

Lettuce ‘Freckles’

I peeked under my row cover yesterday to see how the greens are doing. What could be better than a fresh salad from the garden in January?

Lettuce grows quickly. This variety, ‘Freckles,’ can be harvested in 55 days from seed. The critical thing is to ensure it has steady moisture. With our unending rain, that hasn’t been a problem.

I’m going to toss this with a tablespoon each of dried cranberries and pecan pieces. I’ll top it off with some parmesan cheese, and dress it with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. I may throw in a few leaves of fresh thyme.

Try it. You’ll like it.

Summer peach salad

It’s a dreary, gray day today, but a visit to the farmers’ market brought all the color my eyes could want.

cherokee purple tomatoes

silver queen corn

I had never seen pink oyster mushrooms before.

pink oyster mushrooms

And hurrah! It’s peach season.

peach pyramid

I’m fixing my favorite salad for lunch. Here’s the recipe.

Salad with Summer Peaches

  • 2 cups leaf lettuce and/or mixed greens
  • 1 ripe peach
  • 1 T roasted pumpkin seeds (unsalted)
  • 1 T dried cranberries
  • 1 T crumbled queso fresco
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 2 Tsp red wine vinegar
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper

Wash the lettuce and greens and tear or cut them into bite-size pieces. Wash and halve the peach, removing the pit, then dice the peach. Add the peach, the pumpkin seeds, the cranberries, and the queso fresco to the greens.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil and red wine vinegar. Add kosher salt and pepper to taste.

Drizzle the greens mixture with the olive oil dressing (you may not use all of the dressing). Mix well but gently, using your hands to ensure a thorough coating.

Enjoy with a piece of crusty bread.

Summer peach salad

Grilling on Fourth of July? Try lemon balm pesto.

The Fourth of July is a big day for grilling in the US–although just about any summertime evening when it isn’t storming makes a pretty compelling candidate. I love grilling foods, from meats, fish, and shellfish to vegetables and fruits. More than that, I like to create my own marinades and sauces with the herbs I grow. If you’re looking for something fresh, summery, and different that’s also extremely easy to make, give my lemon balm pesto a try.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is an herb in the mint family. Its small white flowers attract bees and other pollinators, but you’ll be drawn by the lemony scent of the foliage as you brush it with your fingers. It is reputed to be effective as a mosquito repellant when the leaves are rubbed on the skin. But more than all of that, you’ll like the bright lemon flavoring the leaves lend to salads, drinks, and marinades. It has endless uses in the kitchen.

Lemon balm grows easily to 3 feet tall in sun or shade. It spreads like its mint relatives, so grow it in a container of well-draining potting soil mixed with compost. It does not require fertilizing, and is quite stoic in drought but delights in regular rain. One plant should be plenty for you, unless you run a busy restaurant or keep bees. In those cases, two plants should suffice.

MissingHenryMitchell’s Lemon Balm Pesto

  • 3 cups lemon balm leaves, washed
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts
  • Coarse salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice or lemon zest

Put the first three ingredients and a pinch of salt and pepper into the bowl of a food processor or blender. Start the blender, and drizzle olive oil into the mix until the mixture is the texture you like.  If you want your pesto extra-lemony, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice or lemon zest. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Spread on chicken, fish, or shrimp before putting the food on the grill, or allow foods to marinate in the pesto in the refrigerator overnight. For overnight marinating or for brushing on food on the grill, a thinner mixture works well. I like a thicker paste as a garnish on finished dishes. It also tastes great as a salad dressing when tossed with greens, olives, peppers, and a bit of goat cheese, or as a spread on crusty bread.

The pesto may be kept in the refrigerator for a week, or may be frozen for later use. The pesto may slightly discolor as it freezes, but it will taste just fine.

Hope you enjoy your holiday grilling!

Dear Friend and Gardener: June 20, 2014

Dear Friend and Gardener,

After a week of brutal heat, today we have a slight break. It will only be 90 today, humidity 68%, feels like 102. A storm last night brought some much-needed rain, although in temperatures like this, moisture evaporates from the ground rapidly. I finished extending the drip irrigation and topped off the mulch. Everything (except me) looks just a bit fresher.

My pickles turned out not too bad. I feel that the recipe I used is a good starting point. I used an off-the-shelf pickling spice but it is heavy on the cloves. I am thinking of mixing up my own, or at least picking out the cloves until I have used up this batch.

ground cherries (physalis)

I have tiny peppers on my jalapeno and anaheim plants. The ground cherries are now about 4′ by 4′ and covered with little paper bells where the fruits will form. They shade the lettuces well; I can’t believe the lettuce hasn’t collapsed completely in the heat. And most peculiarly, the peas are hanging on for dear life. I think I must get ruthless and cut them down in the next week or so–they’ll only get sad as the summer goes on, and I could use the real estate in the bed for something more productive.

Tomato 'Principe Borghese' is great for drying.

Tomato ‘Principe Borghese’ is great for drying.

Lots of tomatoes on my Principe Borghese plants and on ‘Sophie’s Choice.‘ The ‘Sophie’s Choice’ are slightly shaded by the peas and the cucumbers so I hope they’ll prove resilient, at least until the fruit ripens. They don’t care for high heat. I need to start another batch of plants in my seedling bed. The summer tasks never end, do they? (I wouldn’t be very happy if they did.)

Tomato 'Sophie's Choice'

Tomato ‘Sophie’s Choice’ is a short-season variety.

Hope you are well and that your garden is flourishing.

Best,

Amy