A Taste of the Tropics
By Amy W. Hill
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).
Large fruits measure about the size of an adult woman’s thumbnail, with a texture resembling a firm grape, and taste strongly of pineapple. Bright and sweet, with a hint of tartness, they seem like a snack that would be served alongside a drink garnished with a paper umbrella. 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 5 feet tall and wide. The stems are strong but staking may be helpful, particularly if you wish to grow anything else around them. My lettuce grows nicely in their shade.
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 stop snacking.
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