What tastes like a cherry tomato injected with mango and pineapple juice, and looks like an orange pearl encased in a miniature paper lantern?
No, I'm not just trying to cram as many fruit references into one sentence as possible. It's a real plant: Physalis pruinosa, aka the "ground cherry."
I'd never heard of them until they showed up in our CSA share last week. Ground cherries are one of those slightly obscure seasonal things—like purple long beans or fresh lima beans—you'll probably come across only by chance from a farmstand or a friend's garden. If you do, consider yourself lucky!
These little gems are in the same genus as tomatillos (Physalis philadelphica)—hence the similar papery husk—and the same family as tomatoes. Ground cherries taste slightly sweet and tropical, with a texture that's somewhere between a tomato and a grape. According to this article, their common name comes from the fact that the fruit falls to the ground when it is ripe. The guy at our local farmstand called them "ground tomatoes," and a bit of online research turns up many other names: "husk cherries," "winter cherries," "strawberry tomatoes." Some sources also call them Cape gooseberries, but from what I can tell, those are slightly different (Physalis peruviana).
Well, whatever they are, I like them.
Ground cherries are very versatile, suitable in both sweet and savory dishes. You can just unwrap the fruits and eat them raw, like cherry tomatoes (which is what I've been doing), but here are some other recipe ideas:
1. Puree them into a salsa verde, or chop them in into this ground cherry salsa.
2. Bake a ground cherry pie, upside-down cake, or a husk cherry and plum tart.
3. Layer halved ground cherries with fresh tomatoes and basil for an easy appetizer.
4. Make a simple salad from greens, ground cherries and goat cheese, or get a little more complex with husk cherry Waldorf salad.
5. Ground cherry jam is "easy peasy," we hear.
Any other ideas?