Ground Cherries are little fruits in the same genus as tomatillos (and we can talk about tomatillos sometime down the road). Ground Cherries share a papery husk like tomatillos and are in the same family as tomatoes. But the similarity pretty much ends at that point. They are smaller, sweeter and gorgeous to behold—bright orangey-yellow—they almost glow.
Their taste sort of defies description. Depending on who’s doing the describing, they can be reminiscent of tomatoes, grapes, pineapples and mangos, and can have floral undernotes. Sometimes they are described as all of the above. One of my market friends swears they taste just like butterscotch. Here’s my description: Fireworks–a burst of a million little flavors going off in your mouth. Interested?
You can find lots of recipes for these beautiful little gems, so dig around online. But what’s really great is that you can use them in savory and sweet dishes with little fuss. They can fill a pie or tart for dessert or cook up as jam for toast and cakes for that special Sunday breakfast or shine in a salad where they complement other ingredients very well. They can be husked, washed and frozen or canned for later use. (Again, canning is not something I’m comfortable with yet, but I have hope for myself.)
So let’s start at the beginning of the meal and prepare a ground cherry salad. I’ve found several yummy recipes online and have combined a few for my own version:
- A nice big bowl of washed and dried lettuce—maybe field greens, fresh spinach or arugula to measure five or six heaping cups
- A pint box or two of husked ground cherries—depending what how many other ingredients you decide to add
- Four ounces or so of good-quality goat cheese, sliced or crumbled (Think something in a log, not pre-crumbled in a container.)
- If you are into bacon, crumbled crispy bacon can work well here, too. (Not for me; I’m vegetarian, but everyone is welcome at the table.)
- Some thin rings of red onion–a mandolin works well for this.
- Four to five tablespoons dry-toasted pumpkin seeds, cooled (I dry toast the seeds in a little cast iron skillet—just stir around over medium heat until fragrant and slightly brown.)
- Finally, a few washed, peeled and roasted red beets—now beets are a whole story by themselves, but today the protagonist is the ground cherry, so we’ll stay focused on that. Just scrub your beets and save those luscious leaves, if they are nice, and include some in your lettuce mix for this salad–after thoroughly washing and drying, of course.
Peel and cube the beets into bite-size pieces. Coat with olive oil and just a tiny bit of fine sea salt. Place them in an 8 x 8 casserole dish coated with cooking spray and roast in a 450 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Check with a fork at 15, again at 20 and possibly continue roasting for another five minutes. Roasting beets takes a little care because they can go from incredibly sweet, crusty-soft morsels to cinders in a matter of minutes. The large amount of sugar in beets can cause them to burn, if unattended. You want your fork to be able to easily pierce the beet chunk, but that’s it. Take them out of the oven and let them cool before adding to the salad.
Then whisk up a dressing as follows:
- One to two tablespoons Dijon mustard
- Two to three tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- About a quarter cup extra virgin olive oil
- A tablespoon of your favorite local honey
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Throw the lettuce in a big bowl, add the other ingredients, except the goat cheese and the walnuts (and the bacon) and toss with the dressing. Top with crumbled cheese and walnuts (and bacon, coaches my carnivore husband). You should get four nice dinner salads or two large meal-size salads.
How did yours turn out—bacon or no bacon? Different cheese? I did consider bleu. Let us know!
Now for dessert!
I still struggle with the perfect pie crust. In fact, I’m nowhere near where I want to be. But, I continue to try. For a ground cherry pie you need a double crust. Use your favorite recipe or just go with a basic one: two cups of cold flour, one and a quarter sticks cold cubed butter, a teaspoon of fine sea salt and some ice water. (For my pie, I used spelt flour for added nutrition. Spelt is an ancient grain, and while it is not gluten free, my daughter—who is gluten sensitive–seems to tolerate it, as long as she limits her pie intake to one piece.)
Combine the cold flour and the salt with the cold cubed butter using your pastry blender (or the food processor, if that’s where you are comfortable). Start adding your ice water by tablespoons until you get a dough ball. Divide in half and wrap in waxed paper; chill a little to make rolling it out easier.
Meantime, preheat your oven—most fruit pies bake around 425 degrees for around 30 minutes and then you reduce the oven temperature to 350 for 25 to 30 minutes more—whatever your recipe indicates.
In a bowl, mix two to two and a half cups husked and washed ground cherries with a half cup sweetener—sugar will work well (I use organic raw sugar.), but you could try honey or coconut sugar or date sugar or whatever. But, bottom line: you need sweetener to make the cherries create a nice syrup. Now add a couple tablespoons of water and one and a half tablespoons of flour or cornstarch, so that the filling will thicken. Set aside.
Get your dough from the refrigerator. Working with one batch at a time, roll out on a well-floured board to a nice circle for the bottom crust, place in your pie dish, trim your edge and crimp or braid or whatever you like to do, and fill with your cherry mixture. Take your second batch of dough and roll out to form a circle for a full crust top (with vents) or cut into strips for a lattice top or get really over the top and carve out some little cherry designs to form the top of the pie.
What’s yours look like? Please share some photos!
Helpful hint on pies and pie crust and almost anything else: For standard recipes, my go-to resource has always been Joy of Cooking, the classic volume originally written by Irma S Rombauer (from St. Louis, BTW). My copy is the 1975 revision, by Marion Rombauer Becker (Irma’s daughter) and Ethan Becker (Irma’s grandson). It is tattered, written in, covered with pasted notes and stains, and smothered in love. I cherish it as if Irma had written it just for me. It is an essential kitchen tool, a fascinating read and a cooking class every time you open the covers. Invest in a copy and enjoy. And yes, there is a cool website, but get the real thing so you can enhance it with your own discoveries, sticky notes and inspiration. Also makes a nifty wedding gift—just say’n.