The CSA has these beautiful little tasty jewels right now, the email states “ground cherries.” I have come to refer to them as husk cherries because well… it seems to make the most sense to me. They are sweet, and they are in a husk. When the email read: Ground Cherry my first thoughts were A) Why are they selling ground up cherries, then- B) huh… a bush cherry? Is that like low bush blueberries?
I am trying to understand the variations within the “ground cherry” breed, and in recent light I think I have a better grasp on what these little gems really are. (sort of) Although it may seem that “Chinese lanterns,” husk cherries, ground cherries, or cape gooseberries are all one and the same they are not. Ground cherries, and husk cherries are one and the same, and Chinese lanterns or “winter cherries,” are totally different. Cape Gooseberries or husk tomatoes are similar but not identical. I was recently able to taste the difference seeing that these winter cherries seem to grow wild in a friends yard. Chinese lanterns and ground cherries are all within the same species but they could not be more different.
They look similar, and they grow in a similar weed-like manner but Chinese lanterns seem to primarily be for ornamental uses. I’ve read that they are edible but “tasteless,” the ones I tasted in fact… were far from tasteless. Sour, bitter, with a lingering aftertaste but very much like a tomatillo in the sense that it is savory with a certain bitterness to it. This variety had no sweet qualities to it at all, I would use them for sauces, salads or salsas. So have I figured it all out? No, not really. Maybe those aren’t Chinese Lanterns after all? I can tell you without a doubt that these Ground cherries I get from my CSA are the sweetest, subtle little beauties. I find it really reassuring that all of these natural varieties are still growing wild and free, and I am lucky to have access to them.
I have had access to husk cherries for a few weeks now, and I tell you they are like nothing else in the world. Sweet and savory at the same time, they are like a tomato and grape hybrid with a sweet pineapple or melon taste to them. I have had lots of questions about them, many people have mentioned they have seen them at the farmers market, but they didn’t know what they were. One common question I got was, “why are they so expensive?” They are expensive because they are rare. I paid 13 or 18 bucks (I really do not remember, sorry.) for three pounds. Is it a lot? Yeah dude, but where else can you find something so unique and local? I recall garlic scapes being over $10 per pound, and although it is a bit of a kick in the knickers I love being able to get a hold of things that are local and organic, and not commercially produced in bulk.
To preserve the bounty I made this wonderful jam. Naturally high in pectin ground cherries are perfect for easy but ethereal preserves. Lightly scented with vanilla bean this is outrageous, I was careful to not over power the subtle flavors by using anything too rich. I thought about using honey, but white sugar works best with these mild mannered lovelies. Great with toasts or crackers, over yogurt or ice cream, but really I love it best with cheese. I bet it would even be great with chicken or pork! Although husk cherries are one-of-a-kind you could make preserves that are similarly wonderful for a cheese plate with grapes, green would probably work best.
Yields Four, Half Pint (8 ounce) Jars
1. In a big pot combine all ingredients.
2. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Stir constantly for 10-ish minutes. The mixture will appear foamy (as pictured). Once the mixture thickens and it no longer appears as foamy remove from heat. Place a spoon full into a shot glass or onto a cold plate. Refrigerate for a few minutes. If the mixture appears to have set and thickened you are ready to process the jam. (It will appear syrupy and thick) If the mixture is runny and thin, put it back onto the heat and stir for another 5 minutes.
3. Process jam into jars- Ladle hot preserves into sterile jars. Leave 1/4″ head space, wipe rims clean. Place lids and rings onto the jars. Place into a large stock pot and pour water over to cover. Bring to a boil and boil for 8 to 10 minutes. (or according to your own altitude and jar size. Four ounce jars process in about five minutes.) Remove from boiling water and do not touch for 24 hours. The jars will pop to assure you they have sealed.
Notes: I used two vanilla beans that had been previously scraped and used for vanilla sugar. Homemade vanilla sugar is super simple to make. Just toss scraped vanilla beans into a jar with sugar and allow it to chill out. One whole vanilla bean or one teaspoon of vanilla bean paste are sufficient for this jam recipe.
-Use good quality pineapple, mango, apricot peach or orange juice.
You can reduce the quantity if desired.