What looks like a yellow cherry tomato hidden inside a little paper lantern, and tastes sweetly tropical with pineapple, mango, and vanilla notes?
No, this isn’t a bad joke. It’s a delicious vegetable in the tomato family known as the ground cherry—presumably because they fall to the ground when ripe, and are about the size of a cherry. Native to the Americas, ground cherries were an important food for Native Americans and the first European pioneers. But they dropped out of sight with the rise of industrial food production because the fruits continually ripen, and need to be picked each week throughout the late summer and into the fall. This makes ground cherries great for gardeners and diversified farms, but not suitable for large-scale production since they can’t be mechanically harvested all at once.
A Reemergence of a Tasty Treat
Today, ground cherries are enjoying a renaissance at farm stands and farmers markets. They are not a cherry, but are about the same size, and may be enjoyed raw, straight off the vine, sliced into salads or salsas, or cooked into pies, jams, chutneys and sauces. Thanks to their high pectin content, they are great in pies and jams, on their own or combined with other fruits.
Nature’s Bite-Sized Snack
Ground cherries have the same healthful properties as tomatoes; low in calories but high in nutrients including vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, especially those associated with the color orange. Its vitamin A, C and niacin content rank it among the most nutrient dense for fruit with these nutrients.
The simplest and perhaps best way to enjoy this delicacy is to gently hold it between your index finger and thumb, near the stem-end. Apply gentle pressure and the fruit will pop out of its papery husk–straight into your mouth if you’ve positioned it correctly!
½ cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
1 ear fresh corn, grilled or boiled, and the kernels sliced off
½ cup ground cherries, husked and cut in half
1 medium to large peach, diced
1 teaspoon jalapeno or other pepper, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon mint leaves, cut chiffonade
1 tablespoon cilantro, rough chopped
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Juice of ½ lime
Salt to taste
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss well to combine flavors. Allow to sit at room temperature at least ½ hour, then re-season as needed. Serve at room temperature.