For those of you who gagged on last week’s Lima beans, we’ve got two words for you: Ground Cherries.
No, not ground-up cherries. Ground Cherries. A plant you may not have heard of – we hadn’t – until we ran into them right alongside the Limas at the farmer’s market. The two plants have some things in common. They both originated in South America. They are both somewhat toxic, Limas contain cyanide, while Ground Cherries are members of the nightshade family, and contain potentially deadly toxins in their leaves. And with both Limas and Ground Cherries, you have to peel open a pod to get at the tasty stuff inside.
But their pods are very different, and that’s why you may have never heard of Ground Cherries. Unlike the indestructible Lima pod, the Ground Cherry pod is a delicate papery sack which looks like a mini version of a Chinese Lantern. When the fruit is ripe, the sacks falls to the, um, ground. You’ve got to harvest them off the ground on a daily basis, and they are so delicate that it’s really hard to transport them. So they’ve never been grown on a commercial basis. The only place to get Ground Cherries is at the rare roadside stand that has them in season. Or you can grow them yourself.
Why bother? Well, the Ground Cherry is a cousin of the Tomatillo. When you first peel back the husk, the fruit inside does indeed look like a smallish, yellowish cherry tomato. And when you pop one in your mouth, it sort of tastes like a tomato. Until you realize – wait, what the heck? – that it’s got a hit of pineapple! And then when you’ve barely adjusted to that, all of a sudden – what? no, it can’t be! you kidding me? – the thing smacks your taste buds with a shot of vanilla!! A Tomato Pineapple Vanilla Smoothie? Oh yeah, it tastes just like that, and in a good way.
Ground Cherries are awesome straight up, in a jam or jelly, or as a relish for pork barbecue. And if you’re really lucky and can get your hands of 3 cups of them, you can add in some brown sugar and lemon juice and make an entire pie.
Ground Cherry Tomato Pineapple Vanilla Smoothie Pie?
Oh yeah, it’s all that. In a really good way.