Every year I try to create at least one recipe using ground cherries. From the very beginning of Green Gal of the Midwest, a ground cherry recipe has been on the blog—everything from salad to pie to chutney. Ground cherries are not a familiar fruit—in fact, they are really not a fruit at all. They are kin to tomatoes and tomatillos. And they wear that cute little paper dress with such flair!

They are also local, delicious and nutritious, and we should all be eating them while they are in season. The possibilities are endless…well, nearly…and they make the perfect healthy snack. To prove a point let me give you a scenario:

It is Wednesday afternoon about 4 p.m. Your children have just come home from school, wired, loud and HUNGRY. Dinner isn’t until 6 p.m., and the last thing they need is processed sugar and hydrogenated oils that are in most ready-made snacks. But, hey, you got this. You hand them a Ground Cherry Chew right out of the frig, gluten-free with no processed anything, full of healthy and satisfying fats, and only a tablespoon or two of natural honey or molasses. One chew (well maybe two) will help them fend off hunger for the next two hours, I promise.

Ok, so every kid is a bit different, but if your little ones like fruity, nutty chews, you should really give this recipe a try. It takes a little prep—something for the weekend when the kids can get involved—who doesn’t like rolling slightly sticky balls in shredded coconut, hemp seeds and cocoa powder? Then you are all set with a week’s worth of healthy snacks that your children helped prepare. I’ve given you two versions to start with; after that, it’s up to you and your creativity. So be brave.

One last thing before we pull out the food processor: these recipes not only feature ground cherries but also my friend Angie Carl’s amazing flavored Coconut Butter. I’ve featured Angie’s company My Coconut Kitchen on the blog before, so if you’ve never taken the hint and tried her low sugar, organic coconut butters, now is the time! She’s in local stores (Missouri and Illinois) and also online, so buying her butters is easy. And, she’s got even more recipe’s waiting for you…

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Ground Cherry Alternatives

Ground Cherries all gone? Never could find them? Well, no worries. You can replace them with a firm organic peach or nectarine, a few extra fresh organic apricots or even a firm but ripe peeled mango. Who knows, fall pears and apples will be dropping from the tree soon—any variety that is fairly firm will work, I think, as long as they are not too juicy. In a pinch, go with a double measurement of your favorite organic dried fruits. Be brave. And, if you were clever enough to freeze your ground cherries, I think you can add them in according to the recipes above as long as you thaw them first.

Why Does She Insist on Organic?

Dried fruit is one of my favorite ingredients, especially as warmer-season fruits disappear. But dried fruits can be anything but healthy if they are laden with sulfites (which keeps their color intact but actually gives them a rubbery texture and bitter taste—not to mention is a known common allergen) and can contain high concentrations of pesticides. The fruits I’m suggesting for your chews, for example, are at the top of the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen—peaches, nectarines, apricots, figs. Pay a few pennies more and get safe, organic fruit that actually tastes good and is soft and chewy. Make your chews planet and kid friendly!

But What About the Lunch Box?

Well, you got me there; my Ground Cherry Chews are not shelf-stable. They must remain refrigerated, and they will begin to go mushy if left on the counter for more than 30 minutes. That said, I still have ideas for you and that lunch box (or perhaps boxes!) you fill every morning—the Blogger Box comes to the rescue again!