What are Ground Cherries and How to Grow Them

What is wrapped in a husk like a tomatillo, looks like a tiny tomato and tastes like a cross between a pineapple and a strawberry? These delightful little heirloom fruits are known as cape gooseberry, pineapple tomatillos, husk tomatoes, husk cherries, and Aunt Molly's ground cherries. If you've never had a ground cherry before, you're not alone.

Mostly, you'll find ground cherries at farmer's markets and in a CSA box, but if you have a little bit of space, you can grow them at home. We've got everything you need to know about this unusual little fruit.

A Fruit by Many Names

Ground cherries are part of the nightshade family (along with tomatoes and eggplant), and a member of the Physalis genus, which groups them with other plants with a papery husk like tomatillos.

If you're looking at seeds or the plants themselves, you may see the names Physalis pruinosa, Physalis pubescens, Physalis crassifolia or Physalis peruviana. The common names for these plants (the ones you'll see if you're looking at the harvested fruit for sale at the grocery store) are Aunt Molly's, Yellow Husk, Cape gooseberry, goldenberry, goldie ground cherry, cossack pineapple ground cherry, or the yellow nightshade ground cherry.

How to Grow Ground Cherry Plants

No matter the name, all these plants grow low to the ground (thus, ground cherries) and produce fruit within three months. A single plant can produce several quarts of fruit, so you get a lot of fruit just from a few plants.

These spring/summer plants are good for container gardening, but make sure you give them plenty of space because they can grow up to three feet tall (though they often fall over under the weight of the fruit).

They grow easily from seed, but you can usually find ground cherry plants at nurseries ready for transplanting into your garden. You definitely want to wait until after the last frost has passed before you get them in the ground. The plants will grow almost anywhere, as long the soil is moist but well-drained.

Harvesting this fruit is easy. All you have to do is wait for the ripe fruit to fall off the stem. The husk will turn from green to brown, but there's no need to pick them, just wait for the ripe ground cherries to fall on the ground.

How to use ground cherries

Ground cherries are terrific on their own. Just remove the husk and pop the fruit in your mouth. But if you have any leftover after snacking, here are a few ideas on how to use these sweet-tart treats.

Use them in salads like you would blueberries or strawberries. Greens, goat cheese, maybe some grilled salmon and ground cherries? Yes, please.

Chop them up and mix them with cherry tomatoes for a salsa, or puree them like you would tomatillos.

Bake them into pies and tarts for a tasty summer dessert.

Chop them and cook them with some sugar and liquid to make a syrup or jam and serve it over pound cake or ice cream. They're high in pectin, which means ground cherries make for excellent jam!

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